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Iron Man
Ok, try this. Take any mega star hero, your local politician, your President, Prime Minister or just your immediate Boss. Remove the support system of fame. Take away the Mercedes Benz, robes of honour or office, the Rolex watch, the paid-to-be-adoring crowd of zealous acolytes, the power suit, the penthouse suite and the truck loads of cash – and what do you see? Just see how vulnerable and unimpressive this one time hero has become. Someone pulled the plug on his aura. The magic, the noise, the glare of glory was but a lightshow connected to a powergrid of spin. The cogs spin off like a mechanical clock blasted by a gun. The hero staggers out and lands on her knees. He has to learn, once more, how to walk. She’s now just a doddering spectre of the big cog he once was*.

When you removed the tower of power, only the spark that once ignited that one time furnace of fame remains. The empowerment, the authority, the aura and the mystique is gone. What was it that once impressed us so much? Was it the man (or the woman) or just the blaze he ignited? Was it the aura or the man? Was there anything, really, ever there at all? Perhaps all the persona we saw was the suit. The suit of iron. The Iron Man suit! A man inside pumped to power via super electronics and a loud Hollywood script. Imagine an Iron Man hero pumped not by electric whizz bang, but by a kingdom of slaves, or Personal Assistants, or five hundred kids who stack his shelves. Or by 100 underlings aspiring upwards to his job. Or by the less inspired who are inspired by anything bigger or just more noticed than themselves.

How easy it is for the frailties of a single man to hide in a machine of spin like that. He hides within and blinds those who would look more closely by shining the light of his fame in their eyes. Let them watch his flashing lights. His shiny titanium shields. His gas jets for self propelled flight. He’s like the Wizard of Oz. Or like the organic blob of seething malevolence that hisses and fizzes inside a Dalek suit. An individual can ascend to a great height when elevated on the shoulders of minions paid and placed to hold him up.

When we do manage to catch a glimpse of the man inside the suit, we are almost always disappointed. He does not withstand that pared off scrutiny for long. His unsupported star soon fizzes out as we watch his failures, blemishes and a reality that increasingly resolves down to just a man in the crowd. Just another guy. Or worse.

People need, apparently, to admire their leaders. Otherwise they tend to throw them out. So leaders need to impress. Leaders can choose how to realise such an aim. Leaders can design the machine that drives their ambition forward. Leaders might build a suit of power. Leaders might dig their moats and build their personal myths. The machinery of power bloats the more the man at the core is incapable of impressing all on his own.

I am watching the pandering inanities of our political leadership. The Big Man sits on an Everest of faces arrayed like a mosaic with a million parts. Picking a face to blame is like picking a face from outer space. They all blend in and fuse to one big amorphous mass. It’s hard to point the finger of blame when everyone looks exactly the same. Unless, of course, that someone chooses to be noticed to take an occasional hit of praise; or to accept their own personal 15 minutes of fame. Meeting a leader who chooses to stand out and alone gives us a shock. Not from the electricity of his personality, but through the disorientation of seeing The Man resolved from that empire of minions that usually elevates him from view. We sense that something is wrong… Especially if our admiration was actually based on the horse of power he rode rather than on just the man himself! How impressive is that bit on the very tip of Mt Everest? Is it not made impressive by the 8,000 meter mound of ground underneath?

Bicycle Man – Bicycle Woman!
There’s two ways to impress. There’s two ways to lead: by taking the lead up that hill that leaves everyone else behind, or by fighting from the safety of being out of range (of scrutiny, or of ever actually being seen at all). Clever leaders are ever so rare. Clever leaders don’t mind being revealed through letting the folk see the power of their pedal strokes. Clever leaders are happy to reveal the machinery at their command; to let us watch how all the cogs at their command interconnect. Good leadership lets us observe the part the leader plays; it allows us to see how all the cogs connect through the chain the leader drives through the sweat of his personal effort. Clever leaders are happy to let the cameras watch their smooth cadence and prowess in the hills. Inane managers prefer to ride a black box instead. They don’t want the cameras focusing in on gears they grind, so they veil their cogs under a bureaucratic veil of management smog.

Lousy leaders need their Hors Categorie hills of underlings to take up the strain; to hide their mistakes, to cloud the roles they take. The art of their part shifts from the pedalling of cogs to the shifting of blame. They prefer to ride their minions through the cowardice of remote control. They hide inside that Iron Man suit!

If you load up a bicycle with all this junk of management fat, you won’t even get to the starting line. The frame will crack and your wheels will buckle and you’ll just sit there in the middle of the road. You can stall the race. You can stop some from getting around.

Now I know what a cynic might say. The bicycle leadership model is subject to all the vagaries we see on any Grand Tour stage … like Cadel Evans having a really bad day. But! And this is the key. If leadership works like a good cycling team (which counts Cadel out), then there are replacement leaders to take a pull at the front. There are always alternative leaders in the Peloton of good management. Leaders inspire and mentor their replacements. Leaders inspire the harmony of a team. You don’t need to multi-layer mountains of support for just the man at the top; you invest in the functioning of a team of talent that can mix and match at any particular race and fit the idiosyncrasies of any particular road. You don’t need one bloated Sherman Tank to rule the world. You don’t need to invest everything in just the one Iron Man suit. Better to invest in leadership teams where every cog and every chain is open to inspection by anyone who cares to observe. How long does it take to replace a wheel in a Grand Tour stage? How long does it take to fix the dodgy cogs of Goldman Sachs?

*my attempt to be politically corrected to the specifics of being gender non-specific has clearly failed… Or as I used to suggest to my dumbfounded students, ‘bugger the glass ceiling, just give me leaders like Jeannie Longo’. That’s Jeannie in the photo above.

One Response to “Iron Man vs Bicycle Man”
  1. Michael Pratchard says:

    You always hit the mark clarity of present situations.

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