A Manifesto for Making Leadership Real Again

Change This Leadership ManifestoI’ve written my manifesto (no, I’m not wearing sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt so call off the FBI and ATF). It’s a leadership manifesto. Why can’t we just make leadership real again?

We’re full of crap.  I’m tired of it.  I know you are too judging by the comments I get on the blog and the emails I receive.  I’d like us all to fix this.  To that end, I’ve written a ChangeThis manifesto.  Below is the beginning of the document.  You can read and download the entire thing as a PDF too.

The Leadership Model is Broken.

What has happened to leadership? With all the crises and challenges we face, and the increasingly risk-averse environment in which we operate, leadership has become generic, ephemeral, and bland.

We have devolved from leaders into managers. Admiral Grace Murray Hopper said it best, “you manage things, but you lead people.” The problem is we’re no longer leading. We’re hiding behind committees. We’re using the crutches of data and metrics to make our decisions for us. We blame policies and corporate culture for the problems our teams face rather than delivering the tough messages with a sense of ownership.

The result of all of this is our people don’t trust us anymore. Work has become transactional. They do the work and we pay them. It’s a fee-for-service mindset. When they find someone who will pay them more for their services, they’re gone. And when we no longer have need of their services, we simply cast those people aside. It’s a toxic environment. It’s hard for people to trust their leaders when they feel like they’re simply a cog in the machine.

We are Broken as Leaders.

Raise your hand if you’re burned out. Step forward if you’re worried about your own uncertain future. Shout if you’re feeling a little lost and unclear about where your career is headed. Stand up if you feel like your life is out of balance and you’re running out of steam. Now look around you and take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.

The world has become hypercompetitive and change moves at a dizzying rate. More and more is demanded of us each day. In our “high performance cultures” it sometimes feels like a contest of who can burn themselves out the fastest.

And as we scurry along through a mind-numbing array of meetings, progress reviews, and workshops we lose something along the way—we lose sight of what’s important. We miss seeing the damage we’re doing to ourselves and our people. That’s not leadership. That’s failure.

We Talk Funny.

Many of us resort to using fancy words and frameworks to demonstrate our mastery of leadership. We synergize, leverage and optimize so at the end of the day the sum of our value added activities maximizes shareholder value, engages employees, and propels us to a best-in-class premier position in our industry.

That’s a bunch of crap.

The words sound great but what do they mean? Would you trust a boss who spoke like this all the time? Neither would I. If that’s the case, why do we speak to members of our teams this way? Everyone wants to be authentic. It’s one of the most overwrought concepts out there. Fortunately it’s incredibly easy to be authentic—simply drop the pretenses and be yourself.

So What’s the Fix?

We need to get a grip on ourselves if we want to reverse the inexorable slide into management hell. The buzzwords and lingo need to die. We need to regain a sense of balance in our lives. We need to stop blaming processes, policies, and metrics for the decisions we make (or abdicate). We need to get back in touch with ourselves, our direction, our people, and our sanity. We need to embrace the notion that being authentic means just being ourselves—without pretence, with inadequacies, and with humility.

We need to make life simple again but not for simplicity’s sake—for the sake of bringing clarity to the way we lead. We’re going for profound yet clear. We’re in search of elegance—defining a leadership style that is simple, straightforward, understandable, and practical. We need to articulate and live a style that matches our personality. We need to share that style with the members of our team so they understand us and find us more predictable. In doing so, we’ll reestablish trust with them and lead them more effectively than a billion buzzwords would ever allow us to do.

One Person. A Whole Person.

If you want to be authentic and live a leadership style that’s consistent, you first must embrace the notion that you’re always the same you. At work. At home. At rest. With friends. It’s always the same you. When you try to be something you’re not in any of those realms, you cross the line into inauthentic. You need to strive for the strength of internal consistency that comes from accepting you’re the same person no matter your circumstance.

Given that, when you articulate who you are and who you want to be as a leader you need to look at four aspects of leadership: leading yourself, leading the thinking, leading your people, and leading a balanced life. If you can define your views on leadership across those four aspects, you’ll draw a complete picture of who you are in any circumstance. That complete picture will help you achieve balance and focus on all the areas that are critical elements of your success.

To download and read the rest of the manifesto, CLICK HERE.  I hope you enjoy it and, more importantly, change something about the leadership environment in your organization.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

21 Responses to “A Manifesto for Making Leadership Real Again”

  1. YES! I love the emotion in this piece. Leadership is on fire so “stop, drop, and rethink your role”( yes a bad play on the word roll…). Data addiction IS a form of substance abuse! Try Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix…..

  2. V. R. says:

    Thank you for reminding me that there are whole, emotionally healthy people in the world. It’s easy to forget that when the petty, greedy, incompetent (yet entitled), short-term thinkers seem to be the only ones we see.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Thanks V.R. I really appreciate it!

    • Vicki says:

      I totally feel you V.R, for sure many leaders will get hit by this manifesto and hoping that if that happens they will have a change of heart and do the right thing.

    • S.M. says:

      Great piece. I’ll stand up with you. We’ve overcomplicated the workplace, especially leadership. It’s time to get back to the basic tenets, the fundamentals of sound leadership. Sound leadership, at the end of the day, is fairly simple. Have a clear vision, get buy-in and treat your people as your company’s biggest asset.

  3. Brad Williams says:

    Thanks for the 2 x 4 to my head, I needed it. This post hit me good today and really resonates with my approach the past few years. I have rationalized that “I am playing it safe” and “just blending in” as a form of job security, and a way to ensure my wife and kids eat. I have been unauthentic but that is about to change…starting today. Thanks.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Wow. This made my day Brad. So cool seeing someone taking “change this” to heart! I hope you read the whole manifesto and the book. They should help set you in the right direction. Good luck!

  4. Great Manifesto! Finally someone who dares to stand up and be a leader. I agree with your comments about being real. The problem today is too many leaders want to make everyone happy and get along, don’t rock the boat. If you want to be a true leader you need to realize when you have to stand up and acknowledge the problem and also realize that the solution may not be the popular one but necessary. Leadership is about evolving, thinking and moving forward. It also means having to make tough, and at times unpopular decisions. Leadership is not for the faint or for resume building, it is for individuals who want to make a real difference.

  5. John Jolley says:

    Amen, brother!

    • Alex says:

      This manifesto is the same crap as other leaders produce. It is essentially about nothing.
      The main problem is that most of current leaders knows nothing about what their company is doing, what product they are producing, how to produce a better product, and how to make the company more efficient. These leaders are talking nonsense in great words that nobody can understand (except similar leaders), but are completely incompetent in managing a company and are producing more incompetent managers trying to solve real problems. Any number of managers cannot produce work of one specialist. 10 specialists can produce and sell a product even without a manager if they are good specialists; 10 managers cannot produce and sell anything even if they are good managers.
      I don’t believe in leadership by anybody who is not a specialist in the field where their company operates. You can lead only if you are more competent than the people you lead and not if you can talk big without any useful content. Professional managers are useless ballast in the companies budget. At best, they are not harming the company operation, but in many cases, companies collapse because of managers trying to lead what they have no clue about, not because the company cannot produce and sell a product, which is the key for success. Specialists/experts developing and delivering a product are key elements of any company. The role of managers is to help them, that is all. They are not gods as they believe and they are nothing without specialists unless they are specialists themsleves.

      Stop talking crap. Learn something useful and produce real results (not speaches, meetings, e-mails, manifesto, …)

      • Mike Figliuolo says:

        I feel really bad for you Alex. Seems like you’re incredibly jaded and have a painfully ugly lens on the world of leadership. I’m sure that’s a function of the leaders you’ve worked with.

        Note nowhere in this manifesto, blog, or anywhere else is the specialist’s role denigrated. The purpose of everything we write and produce is to help those awful horrible managers you mention become actual leaders.

        I have to take exception to your “crap” assessment of my work – if you got nothing out of it, I’m sorry. Either you already know and apply all of it or simply don’t believe it (which I can accept but still have a tough time understanding the experiences you’ve had that lead you to that assessment).

        Candidly, I’ve seen plenty of “non-specialists” do amazing things with teams of specialists. I’ve also seen plenty of “specialists” fail miserably due to their hubris and inability to appreciate the skills and capabilities of others.

        Your final shot of “stop talking crap and produce real results” is ignorant. Unless you know me, my clients, and the improvements in their job performance, you’re completely unqualified and off-base to make that assertion.

        I really hope your day (and life) gets better. Also – spell/grammar check. It erodes your credibility as a “specialist”…

        • Al Watts says:

          ‘An interesting exchange – and I think a reasonable, measured reply on your part, Mike. Of course Alex’s perspective is unfortunately part of today’s reality (authentic picture) in organizations (think “Dilbert,”) and yes – why we are trying to “transform business as usual (including leadership) into business at its best. For Alex and others who may be “mad as hell and not taking it any more,” my blog re: “Is It Time To Part Company?” might be useful –

        • Bert says:

          Mike – Alex is in a dark place and should move fast to find a new place to work. I have been there and worked for an organization that put folks into leadership that where as lost as last years Easter eggs! No field, project or product experience, and its a motivation killer.

          So I feel his pain, but to your point I worked with top SME’s in their field that could not lead a group of kindergarten kids during nap time!

          The bottom line is that like Alex there are so many folks that have not worked for a real leader that it has become almost a fairy tale story to find one.

          The organization I left is still in the same place doing the same things since, three years and the folks there are numb.

          Sad to say that seems to be the norm. Thanks for the Manifesto – good to know some out there are still thinking normal!

  6. Al Watts says:

    This is great, Mike; thanks for telling it like it is! This is funny – I am just drafting an article on “inauthentic authenticity” – and overuse of other hyped concepts. You reinforce several of the main themes in my book Navigating Integrity – Transforming Business As Usual Into Business At Its Best, including first recognizing that we are whole persons (head, hands, heart, spirit) at work. Leadership begins with heart; maybe leaders are failing because it’s hard to put their hearts into what they think they have to do.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. Itś true, The leadership borns in what we are, we can’t deceive the people for a long time, better is be real whit ourselves and show us as we are.

  8. Carol Hunter says:

    As an educational leader for almost 30 years, I , too, was always amazed at the lack of change and impactful leadership in our profession. After receiving The order of Excellence in Education and being named one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals, I felt I had to write my recently-published book, Real Leadership, Real Change (Moving beyond research and rhetoric to create a new future in public education). The book focuses on what Real Leaders must know, do and BE to successfully empower others to be the best they can be and to maximize results.

  9. John R says:

    Great thoughts here, Mike. I’m reminded of some of the best leaders I’ve ever known – from the US Navy. Many of the senior enlisted non-commissioned officers are 100% authentic: tattoos, swearing, and all. As a young commissioned officer I learned a lot from them about really caring about those who work with and for you – and caring about getting the job done. There weren’t any buzz words about leveraging strategic initiatives to create value added services. Let’s just get the ship safely in and out of port, make sure everyone comes home, and learn (and memorialize) valuable lessons each and every day.

  10. Bob Jacobson says:

    While I empathize with your sentiments, Mike — do I ever! — you are trying to overturn about 6,000 years of human history and customs, which may be asking a lot of a single manifesto. We as societies are perpetually creating managers rather than leaders because we feel safer with them until a crisis finally manifests; then we seek a leader and usually end up with someone who leads us over the cliff. It happens over and over. I’ve always wondered, why do we voluntarily strap ourselves with this handicap? Then I recall, often it’s not voluntary but built into the prevailing ideology — often, an ideology that there is such a thing as the perfect leader or one that decries leadership entirely. We are a highly ambitious, flawed species. How much happier we would be without “Leaders,” if every one of us was organically a leader…but that seems beyond our collective and individual mental and emotional capacities. So how do we actuate your manifesto so that it’s results defy the eons and result in at least temporarily lasting benefits for all?

  11. Alex says:


    Sorry for the harsh language and spelling (I am probably too frustrated by “leaders” I see around and English is the last language out of four I learned, so I am not very strong in it yet). I saw this article absolutely accidentally and should not have responded to it. The worst thing is that I did not realize that it is your website and it is your tool to communicate with your clients. I apologize again for any harm I could have done with my message.

    I recognized right away that your manifesto identified the big issue – people don’t trust leaders, what other “leaders” don’t admit or don’t care about. It identifies also a number of causes of this mistrust. However, one of its statements is “We talk funny” and, at the same time, it talks funny. This actually provoked my last emotional statement in the previous message for which I apologize. You, in contrast, provided a very good response – thank you.

    Anyway, out of curiosity, I showed this manifesto to different people in our office. All of them have bachelor, master or doctor degree in different fields and for all of them English is the first language (not like me). None of them was able to decipher what the fix is. Maybe it is specific to the audience you work with, but our people just don’t understand what means: “to get a grip on ourselves”, “to get back in touch with ourselves, … and our sanity”, “embrace the notion that you’re always the same you”, “to strive for the strength of internal consistency that comes from accepting you’re the same person no matter your circumstance”. For all of us, this sounds funny and we believe that people who need this type of fix should not be allowed to manage any organization. Again for all of us, the issue is that a large number of managers either don’t know what they are doing or are acting in their own interests and not in interests of the company. They organize countless meetings, give meaningless speeches, develop myriad of policies and all of this is useless at best, often even harmful for organizations because is completely disconnected from reality and has nothing to see with the operational needs. They find wrong problems and deviate lots of precious resources on solving these wrong problems. One commenter to your manifesto very well said that “the petty, greedy, incompetent (yet entitled), short-term thinkers seem to be the only ones we see.” The worst thing is that they typically get huge salaries, bonuses and severance packages no matter their impact on the organization.

    Another thing, which is really frustrating for me, is to hearing a lot of young people responding to the question “What do you want to do in life?” as “Becoming a manager.” My reaction to this is always the same – “First learn to do something yourself, then you may be able to manage.”

    Now, I should finish on something positive. I appreciate that you recognize the issue. I agree that not all leaders are like this. I agree that some non-specialists are great leaders of specialist teams. I agree that many specialists are terrible managers. But in general, my opinion is that the best leaders are specialists in the field they are managing. The best managers I have known started as specialists and later evolved to leading positions. Many or companies that I highly appreciate have a policy that none can rise to a certain level of management unless the person has an in-depth knowledge of the company operation.

    This is my five cents (maybe biased) from the other side of the wall, i.e. low level management point of view (I lead a technical team of 15 people in a company of about 500 people). We have absolutely no issue within our team and with my boss who is also a technical person. Anybody above him, are dangerous ballast for the organization. The CEO is not bad, but he is squeezed between investors and the ballast. I have quite a lot of experience with other organizations. What is killing is incompetence and this is actually at all levels, not only poor managers.

    I apologize again for any inconvenience my writing might have caused to you and for any new spelling/grammatical errors – it will take some time to get my English comparable to yours given when I started learning it.
    Have a great day,

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Hi Alex.

      Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I’m more than impressed with your English. Four languages?! Wow. I’m honestly impressed with the skill that takes so please don’t apologize for your English (and I redact my crack about spelling – please accept my apology). Your comments didn’t cause me any issues with my clients. The site is about healthy debate. If your comment would have caused issues, I would not have approved it. Incidentally – the only comments I disapprove are contain either profanity, hate speech, or spam.

      I’m glad the big issue popped out of the manifesto and I’m glad my last response was helpful. You raise some fair points on language in the manifesto. I understand it doesn’t entirely stand on its own and is lacking in the “how to” of all the recommendations I make. That said, the book it is based upon (One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership) is the entire “how to” instruction and workbook for doing all the things I advocate in the manifesto. The manifesto itself is designed to spark emotions and interest and the book is the next logical step in fixing the issues the manifesto raises. Yes – the manifesto is both a wake-up call as well as a marketing tool for the book (see the last page of the manifesto for what I’m talking about).

      You and I completely agree that folks need to learn how to perform their role before they aspire to lead. I’d argue though that once folks have been a leader for several years, they have in essence become a specialist themselves in that skill set thereby (hopefully) making that skill set transferable to roles where they’re not necessarily a specialist in that particular content area. You and I both also agree on the point that folks requiring this type of “fixing” shouldn’t be in leadership roles unless they set about to fix their deficiencies.

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with the issue of mid-management “ballast” – my challenge to you is to see if you can help change that culture and fix it. I know I’m asking a lot with that request but we have to start somewhere, right?

      Again – no apology necessary for either inconvenience or spelling. Thanks for being open to the reply, the thoughts in the manifesto, and this conversation. It’s a pleasure meeting someone who is rational and passionate about leadership. I hope you’ll continue to read our articles here on the blog and share your perspectives along the way.

      Have a great week and thanks again for engaging.

  12. Blanche Cordero says:

    Can I work for you? To be real and accepted for who you are, what you can and are able to offer to a company and to let strengths shine without having to hold back on your enthusiasm, passion and fun. To be able to be honest and yourself with everyone in a company. Nirvana. I only wish. At my last company, we had an underground of people who thought like that. For a while we were in the majority, but then thinking that way was being negative and you were banished.

    Change is so hard and it is the hardest for the people who have the most to lose – the executives. No matter what happens they have their packages. So where is the incentive?

    Stockholders get involved!

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