Not Fair

I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust tests. They’re just not fair!  I blame it all on that day in the 4th grade.

It’s 1973, Meadows Elementary School, Millbrae, CA. I’m 10 years old and my homeroom teacher, Mr. Ramos announces, “Today we’re going to take a test.   You have 30 minutes.  No peeking at each other’s papers.   Go!”

I scan the sheet on my desk, which includes about 50 math and logic questions.  Near the top, I see instructions which say, “Read this test carefully from top to bottom before you begin.”  Yeah yeah, sure.  Time’s ticking.  This test is LONG!   And so I jump in.   Before I know it, Ramos rings a bell.

“That’s 30 minutes.  Time’s up!   Put down your pencils and exchange your papers with a neighbor.”

“But I’m only half way done.  Not fair!”

Not fair indeed!   As it turns out, the whole test was a sham!  Apparently, the instructions at the top were literal!  At the bottom of the test sheet – which I never even reached – were the words, “Ignore the rest of the test. Just sign your name here and you’re done.”    I was punked!

Have you ever taken a test like this?    Let me assure you that my intention today is not to prove that elementary school teachers are all sadists – out to torture our pre-pubescent minds (although I’ve known a few who make me wonder)!    Rather, my point is that most tests just aren’t to be trusted!  Consider, for example, the quiz I take online the other day, titled “Discover Your Leadership Style.”   It’s one of those questionnaires that asks you to rate yourself on a scale of 1-5.

  • Do you prefer to be in control?
  • Do you empower people?
  • Do you see yourself as the boss or a mentor?

That kind of thing.  Sounds simple enough, right?  The problem is, the questions are TOO simple, too black and white.    They don’t take context into account.    After all, behavior is situational, right?!!  Yes, I’m usually calm and patient with the people I’m leading.   But there are times when, as a leader, you have to crack the whip, too.  In case you’re interested, here’s what the test had to say about my leadership style.  Apparently:

  • I’m a Coach
  • I’m Altruistic
  • I’m Democratic
  • I’m Innovative
  • I’m Affiliative, and
  • I’m a Pacesetter

Okay, that all seems about right.   I prefer to delegate and avoid micromanaging. I like giving everyone a say in decision-making.  I prefer to catch people doing something right rather than jumping on their mistakes. But wait, the test also notes that I’m high on the “authoritative” scale.  What’s that all about?!  Didn’t it just say I was democratic and altruistic?!!    What, now I’m a dictator?!!  Not fair!

Like I said, I’m distrustful of tests—especially personality tests.   And when it comes to leadership, is external style all that important anyway?   Wasn’t this test really just about measuring management style rather than leadership?  I find myself wondering how great leaders like Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Martin Luther King, would fare on a multiple-choice leadership test like this.  I’m guessing not particularly high.  These leaders were all complex, flawed individuals who lost their tempers occasionally.  They micro-managed.    From time to time, they were even autocratic. What made each of them great leaders, however, is something un-measurable—what I call internal leadership.

Our greatest leaders have the power to lead by example, through the force of their internal maturity.

Yes, leaders need to be able to empower those around them through sound management skills and practices. But to be an internal leader, you need to glow from within. To be an internal leader requires three, not-so-simple behaviors, namely:

  1. You embrace change, whether you desire it or not
  2. You accept responsibility for the outcome of your actions
  3. You choose love over hate

That’s it. That’s internal maturity.  That’s internal leadership.

Are YOU ready to step into world-class leadership?  Well, then:

  • I challenge you to embrace the changes happening in our world – to not run away, to not put your head in the sand.
  • I challenge you to accept responsibility for your actions, no matter what.
  • And I challenge you to choose love in a world that is veering towards hate.

Will you be tested?  Oh yes, but not by a quiz or questionnaire. (And certainly not by Mr. Ramos!) You may be a bossy leader at times.  Or be short with people. You may even find yourself being autocratic.

But as an internal leader, inspiring the world with your message, your actions and your maturity, no one will ever accuse you of being – NOT FAIR!

–Dave Blum