Populist Conundrum

Populist leaders become captive to their own populism. They attract followers who must be depended upon to align with their leaders’ absolute requirements for team membership. What results is a suppression of individual courage to make a difference in the system by being different in the system. The capacity for the system to produce creative change for higher performance is blocked.

Leadership is an emotional process.  Its connection to the intellectual process is finite.  No decision by a leader can be done in an a purely intellectual sphere.  The decision is always shaped within the emotional envelope.

One popular meme for leadership is that changing others can be accomplished through the strength of the leader’s personality – a cult of leadership personality.  The leader crafts a “big life” image for himself or herself, and projects it in order to inspire others to follow.  This “inspiration” is wrongly named.  It is, in fact, manipulation. Study the tyrants of the world and see this style for the colossal damage it produces.

Populist leaders believe in “the way”. For them, there is one way. The only way. Their way.  They invest energy in aligning others to that way.  They attract populist followers who are more easily manipulated. These followers are deeply uncertain about themselves.  They are likely chronically anxious. They fear their surroundings – both physical and mental. They may not have well developed personal values or visions for their own futures. Populist followers are susceptible to the belief that external critique of their work is more credible than self-critique.  Thus, they suppress the value of self-critique and their professional growth is blocked. Populist leaders fill a void for these flowerers…with their own “answers”.

Populist leaders operate from their own deep anxieties, self-uncertainty and doubt.  Their followers do, as well.

Mature (non-populist) leaders practice…..

  1. Differentiating Self
  2. Staying Connected
  3. Maintaining a Non-Anxious Presence
  4. Being Non-Reactive

Peace and Courage,



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