Leadership is about improving upon what otherwise would be likely to happen anyway – in other words, it is about changing the future. Every other type of change is just glorified Management.
Throughout every organization, society, and economy, there are innumerable formal and informal, internal and external, written and unwritten policies, process descriptions, regulations, and laws that over time progressively dominate the dynamics that the system displays. From the combined impact of all these “Rules” emerges the system’s future. In order to change that future, it is some of this long list Rules that need to be broken.
The point is, in most well-established social systems, if you want to Make A Difference then there is simply no sustainable way to outsmart such a strongly-reinforced set of Rules; you cannot beat the system. But if you are clever enough and lucky enough then you can break it.
For instance, you may be able to introduce a disconnect into the established ways of doing things in your industry or profession or country and as a result trigger a realignment of how everyone interacts, or stimulate a social revolution that realigns a whole global system, or (sometimes most sensitive of all) force a recalibration of the hidden inner workings of your own organization.
Across history, extraordinary leaders of every type – from JFK to Rosa Parks, from Henry Ford to Picasso – share having successfully broken the rules of society, the sciences, the arts, morality, the workplace, the state.
Indeed, it is only when someone deliberately and sustainably Breaks the Rules that they ever exhibit true leadership. Riding the waves of existing trends and foreseeable changes may require great skill. But it is still only sophisticated Management, not Leadership.
The question that I ought constantly to be asked therefore is: “How can I best change the future?”
To answer that far more relevant question (which at its heart is about how an individual can influence the world) we need first to understand how the future in fact works.