It always surprises me how people casually and flippantly exalt nincompoops to the position of a “leader.” The first time I witnessed such an event take place in the corporate world, it was during a town hall meeting I attended, eons ago. A so-called “transformational leader” was visiting us and there was a town hall meeting with him to break the ice. While talking to us, he pointed to a large group of incompetent managers with non-existent people management skill or for that matter any management skills whatsoever and addressed them as “dynamic leaders of the company.”
I was so startled by this sudden baptism of new leaders that I almost choked on the soda I was drinking and fell off the chair I was perched. Luckily, I was able to recover and control myself, and didn’t create a scene by spitting out a mouthful of soda on all the newly anointed leaders. The entire exercise of “certifying” certain people as leaders seemed so arbitrary to me. But, there it was, some of the worst managers in the company were anointed as leaders, in a hall full of people, and the applause from the obedient worker bees was resounding. Well, the atmosphere in the room was so electric that my brain was fried by the electrostatic discharge in the air. A very emotional moment for the attendees, and a ‘how-the-hell-can-I-get-meself-outta-here’ moment for me.
As I gradually climbed up the corporate ladder I always kept that incident in my mind, to remind me how easy it is to be christened a leader, even if you are the most incompetent person in the room/floor/organization. The more I observed the so-called leaders around me the more I wondered if I was the only one who noticed the non-leadership qualities on may self-anointed and peer-anointed leaders. Then, one day, I noted something both amusing and interesting with the word ‘leader’. If you rearrange the letters in the word ‘Leader’, it becomes ‘Dealer’. In other words, the word ‘dealer’ is an anagram of the word ‘leader’. I, then, asked myself the question, “Is it possible that a dealer is the antithesis of a leader?” And, down a rabbit hole I went.
The dictionary definition of a dealer is, “a person or firm engaged in commercial purchase and sale; trader: a car dealer, one who is engaged in buying and selling.” It is after reading that definition of a dealer that I had my ‘aha’ moment and realized that I have answer to the questions I had asked myself. My discomfort with people being anointed as a leader willy-nilly stems from the unconscious realization that many people anointed as leaders are not leaders but dealers–they don’t lead, they just do deals. They buy and sell everything they touch.
To dealers, everything is a commodity–people, things, careers, jobs, relationships, promises, dreams, aspirations, etc. Dealers are not interested in any endeavor if it doesn’t end up in a deal. They will sell your jobs to buy themselves a career. They will sell you a hollow promise to buy themselves a commitment. Dealers will sell you fear to buy themselves security. They will sell you fake dreams to buy themselves what they aspire or desire. They will sell people to buy “obedient slaves.” Dealers will sell favors to buy allegiance. You get the drift, I am sure.
Thus, a dealer, in my book, is an anti-leader–everything that a leader isn’t or shouldn’t be. If you observe closely, you’ll notice that the world of management and politics are full of dealers and there are hardly any leaders. Although most of them are called leaders, they are dealers. Now, you may wonder what makes a person a leader and what makes a person a dealer, and what are the key differences between a leader and a dealer. Based on my experiences in the cut-throat corporate world and the real world, I list my observations below.
Leaders understand that the success of their team determines their success. Leaders, therefore, have a vested interest in the growth of their team/followers and ensure they have a personal stake in the progress and development of people who look up to them. They will ensure that their followers are set up for success, not failure, and help/guide them during their journey towards their destination.
Dealers, on the other hand, are only interested in their own success. They are quite content to make deals with the “devil,” to selfishly pursue their own agendas, even at the expense of progress/development/success of their team, followers or organization. A dealer will not care about his/her followers. (S)he doesn’t give a rat’s posterior about the well-being of his/her team or organization. Most politicians who have been anointed as a leader are actually dealers. Look around you, the political landscape is full of dealers.
Leaders hold themselves accountable for any mistakes they make. They are not afraid to say, “I am sorry, that was a mistake on my part; how can I make it right.”
Dealers, however, will always blame somebody else for their mistakes. If their project fails, then, they will look for a scapegoat to lay the blame. If they say something controversial, then, insteading owning up to their mistake, they will say, “…my comments have been taken out of context.” When they fail to make a change happen, they will very conveniently blame their predecessor(s)–”I am not at fault here and should not be blamed for it. I didn’t create this situation; I inherited this mess.” If they make an embarrassing faux pas, they will place the blame squarely on “the harmful effects of solar radiation.“
Leaders are very aware of their personal limitations and, therefore, will surround themselves with advisors/team members, who can complement them with additional skill sets or expertise. They understand that the whole is better than the sum of its parts; hence, they build a team using that principle.
Dealers, on the other hand, think they know it all, consider themselves subject matter experts on everything under the sun, think they are a polymath or a savant, and will only surround themselves with only “yes-(wo)men.” Dealers have an opinion about everything and are very quick to correct you, even if what they say is totally incorrect or made up BS.
Leaders will give you just-in-time feedback and help you correct your mistakes immediately. The feedback they give will not be wishy-washy. They will clearly explain your strengths and identify areas of weakness or improvements.
Dealers, on the contrary, will rarely give you feedback on time. They will let you fail so that they can derive pleasure from it. Furthermore, if you are not on their good book, they will keep a tab of all your mistakes and use them to against you to get even, during year-end appraisal.
Leaders are empaths; they have a conscience and a soul and can observe things from your frame of reference. They can put themselves in your shoes to experience the emotions you are feeling.
Dealers, on the other hand, are mostly sociopaths/psychopaths. They are cold, calculated, scheming and cunning. To protect themselves or get what they want, dealers will lie without even batting an eyelid. Any damage is a collateral damage; to them, everything’s fair in war and love. They will destroy you to further their career/goal/agenda.
Leaders do not scuttle open dialogue or differing opinions, but encourage it and are okay with someone acting as a devil’s advocate. Leaders are not scared of asking, “what do you think?” They will listen to your observations with an open mind, evaluate it and even change his/her decision if (s)he believes you have a valid point or a better plan.
Dealers create echo chambers and love to live in a cocoon of self-adulation and ignorance. They hate differing opinions and expect everybody to agree with him/her. They want obedient slaves with a herd mentality. If you ever make the mistake of providing an alternative view-point, you will be cut to shreds.
To leaders, it is okay to make mistakes and fail on certain endeavors; after all we are all humans. However, they expect us to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them time and again.
Dealers will crucify you for making a mistake and make an example out of you for all the other team members to see. You will get a dressing down in public for any errors you commit.
Leaders are humble, introspective, ethical, fair, responsible, altruistic, in addition to exhibiting many other positive character traits.
Dealers are bombastic, self-centered, unethical, unfair, irresponsible, caustic, selfish, in addition to displaying many other negative character traits.
Leaders will remember your achievements and recognize you for it. You’ll be recognized based on merit and not because of some office politics.
Dealers, on the other hand, will very rarely care about your achievements, but will wax eloquent about everything they have achieved. If they ever recognize you for something, there is bound to be a hidden agenda behind that move. Be careful, be very careful when a dealer recognizes your achievement.
Leaders keep the commitments they make. However, if they foresee any hurdles in keeping those promises/commitments, they will be honest and open about it and inform all where exactly their commitments/promises will fail. They will not deceive, inveigle or obfuscate.
Dealers can sell their kids, betray their parents, throw their family under the bus, backstab their closest confidants just to satisfy their ego or get what they want. To a dealer, no relationship, commitment or promise is sacrosanct. They can renege on their commitment, pledge or contract if they feel that they will not be able to extract their pound of flesh.
Leaders listen actively rather than pretend to listen. When they give you time for a meeting or an one-on-one session, they will actually take time to listen to you.
Dealers consider you to be far beneath them; therefore, listening to anything you have to say is just a waste of their time. They just hear you, but rarely listen.
Life and liberty
- Leaders treat people as human beings and not as cattle or cannon fodder. They value human life and will sacrifice their own life to protect the lives of the innocents.
In contrast, to dealers most human beings are just pawns in a bigger game and are dispensable. They are ever ready to declare war and send someone else’s sons/daughters to die for them. They will use nationalism/patriotism as a ruse to further their agenda. If someone dares to question or oppose their actions, they will be labelled as an anti-national or a traitor.
- Leaders will not infringe upon your liberties, will educate you that there is no free lunch and that somebody has to eventually pay–it may be you, your kids, your grandkids, or great grandkids, but somebody has to eventually pay for a free lunch today.
Conversely, in the name of equality, diversity or an egalitarian society, dealers will enact laws or pass orders and edicts that will gradually erode your freedom, liberties and rights. Ultimately, the goal of the dealers is to create a world ruled by a tiny majority of extremely wealthy individuals, who are protected by well armed goons and supported by an army of plebes who are divided based on religions, race, gender, ethnicity, skin tone, caste, creed, language, etc.
Fear or threats
A leader will never use fear or threats to move his/her team forward or pursue the shared vision. Leaders connect with the people they lead. They form a bond with their team members/followers, win their trust and commitment to collectively work towards meeting their common goals.
A dealer controls his/her team/organization by keeping them in a state of constant fear. It is their go-to emotion for manipulation and coercion. They know that many people can be made to do anything by instilling fear in them. People will willingly give up their freedom and personal liberties to be protected from an imaginary bogeyman, which a crafty dealer will conjure up for his gullible follower.
Leaders encourage collaboration, whereas dealers build silos. Leaders will build teams with a diverse set of individuals with myriad skill set. They will constantly challenge those working for him/her to better themselves and get better at what they do, create, design or develop. Leaders will encourage his team to continuously evolve, improve and innovate.
Dealers will hold you back, box you in, want you to stagnate in your role and finally leave the firm. (S)He doesn’t want any competition to his role; hence, (s)he creates fissures between people/team/followers. As long as people are busy fighting with each other, they will never realize that they are being pawns to the dealers at the helm of power.
Leaders anticipate market trends and are quick to adapt to change. They are analytical, use data to make business decision and rarely let emotions to play a role in managing business activities. Their actions are fine tuned towards the organization’s vision and mission.
On the other hand, dealers’ actions are attuned towards their selfish agendas, which invariably are aligned towards their own self-aggrandizement.
Leaders are great communicators. Because they speak from their heart, they elucidate well, are very articulate and don’t need to read from a paper or a teleprompter or refer to a prepared speech. They dial down their language so that everybody can understand the most complex ideas. They are not sophists or blasé.
Dealers are always cryptic with their message and will never give you a straight answer. For e.g., if you ask them if the sky is blue, they will respond by saying, “Light travels at 299,792 kilometers per second or 186,287 miles per second. It takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds for sunlight to travel from the Sun to reach the Earth. Light is both a particle and a wave. The wavelength of visible blue light is 475 nm.” Say what now?
Leaders can quickly adopt a different leadership style and morph themselves and their approach based on the situation they are in. They can build consensus when needed; be firm and ask something to be done without any questions asked, when the situation demands such an action; lean back and allow somebody to lead, delegate work and not micromanage. Just like water, they can take the shape of the enclosing container.
Dealers want absolute control over everything and everyone. They are the ultimate authoritarian–my way or the highway kind of person.
Leaders are never scared of the people they lead. They want their team members to succeed; hence, they don’t stymie or hinder growth, but support, encourage and promote it. All leaders know that they will leave their post one day. Therefore, they make sure that they have a succession plan in place. In many ways, leaders believe in making themselves redundant by coaching/mentoring/preparing somebody from the organization to replace them.
Conversely, dealers are scared of people around them, are terrified of being booted out and will try to hold onto the cradle of power at all cost. They will flout rules/conventions/protocols to stay in power or hold the reins of power. For e.g., if they are indicted for a crime, they will have their family members or a proxy replace them. If they are caught red-handed accepting bribes, they will claim that the entire thing is a conspiracy, a setup, a sting operation to malign his/her name. Even if there is video evidence of their wrongdoings, they will claim that the tape is a fabrication. If an investigative agency starts a probe against them for alleged corruption, financial improprieties or misuse of power, they will claim they are being framed and it is all a witch-hunt by their opponents and enemies.
Leaders address problems head on and do not ignore it or brush it under the carpet. Leaders are great risk managers, they manage risks creatively and proactively. They know that all undertakings are fraught with risks and they plan accordingly.
On the contrary, dealers are impulsive and reckless, and risk management is often the last thing on their mind, as they can always blame others when something goes wrong and excrements hit the rotating device in the ceiling.