Leading When the Lines Are All Blurred



Have you ever thought about all the lines that have been erased in the last 50 years?  It hit me when I was listening to a story about the number and impact of “soldier bloggers” in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Technology has eliminated the line between journalists and troops, and the line between commanders and troops.  Families and citizens back home can as easily, and often preferably, hear from a real soldier as from a newspaper writer or a military spokesperson.  So also, photos and videos can rip down the screen that used to shield combat and instead now expose the horrors of war for all the world to see.

In our everyday lives, nearly every significant line has also been obliterated.  One of the brightest lines – separating male from female – has been made nearly invisible, at work or home.  Women rule. Men raise kids, wear perfume, carry purses.  So, also the line around marriage too is riddled with openings.  Females marry and make love to females, males with males. Some people change gender altogether.

Line after line, gone.  Night and day blur – with electrical lights and technologies that make commerce or conversation 24/7 and global.  You can’t tell the customers from the checkout clerks at Meijer.  Catholics kids like me and my Protestant friends who were told we came from rival churches increasingly realize how foolhardy that was. One God, one Christ, and a lot of silly man-made lines and compartments.  (An extraordinary TED Talk finds unity well beyond Christianity.)  Father doesn’t know best.  The boss isn’t always right. And sensible businesses know:  neither is the customer.

The orthodox still insist on lines of demarcation and demonization – in religion, nationhood, clan, business, sports team. They live off lines, distinctions, and fear of “the other” – Black, gay, Mexican, or right-wing, Muslim, Republican, Hutu, Shiite, feminist…  But our common sense, science, the free market, and free speech continue to eat away at idiotic barriers and meaningless lines, separating facades from the genuine authentic insides.  If these sweeping observations seem like a bit much for a Tuesday morning at the office, allow me to draw two simple conclusions.

First, authority buys you a little time and a little cover, but only the authentic prevails.  Authentic love (compassion and the golden rule) and authentic truth (a fair description of what we can sense) are all that really matter.  If you want to lead with authority – as parent, boss, teacher, principal, executive director – don’t hide behind your authority, but instead always seek to rely on those two things that matter and endure.

Second, when leading without authority, the same rules apply.  In some ways, it’s always been true that anyone could  lead, but the ability to do so has never been greater. The lines have never been as relaxed. The strongest barriers aren’t outside any more; they’re inside. From what we used to call “below” or “outside” you can change your company, your church, your family, your city. And enduring power to do so comes from that same place – authentic love and truth.  And it takes one more thing: the decision to step over the well-eroded line that kept you out and so, to

Lead with your best self,