I’m not sure about other cultures, but here in my neck of the woods we have two extreme responses to interacting with our leaders. The most common is to “suck up.” The less common, but still often observed reaction is to tear down.
These two reactions are quite understandable.
For the first, our leaders are important to us. Being liked and getting positive feedback from them makes us feel good. It makes us feel important to be liked and get positive reactions from those who are important to us. And when someone is important or famous we can be awed by them and everything they do and say seems just so awesome. The outworking of this fawning or currying favor is expressed in several ways- finding all the leader’s ideas are without fault, laughing at all the leader’s jokes, giving preferential treatment/lack of discipline to the leader’s children, giving preferential treatment to the leader’s spouse/family members, not calling the leader out on bad behavior or bad ideas, etc.
For the second reaction, our leaders are important to us and we either resent them for their importance, popularity, power, “wrong” party affiliation, perceived special privileges or we power trip on making someone in power patiently listen to us as we berate them or we feel like we have to even out all the suck ups. The outworking of this tearing down can be expressed by finding fault with every idea, constant snide remarks, being extra hard on the children, spouse, or family members of the leader, “just telling it like it is,” making a big deal of every perceived misstep of the leader and doing so publicly in a manner to shame them rather than to bring positive change.
Because of this bimodal distribution of attitude towards leaders, leaders find themselves in a bubble. They cannot trust the relationships around them- people give them either favoritism or negativity. And neither of these interactions provides an honest relationship. Without honest relationships with people who tell the truth, leaders lose connection to reality and have nothing to ground them. Leaders, like anyone else, desire honest relationships and want to believe those around them are engaging in honest relationships. If the leader listens to the fawners, they begin to think all their ideas really are great, or they really are hilarious, and that they are doing no wrong. If the leader listens to those who would tear them down, they come to believe they are ineffective and unfit to lead.
So, a failure in leadership is often very much a failure in honest relationships by the ones being led. When we fawn over or tear down our leaders, we sabotage their ability to lead. Of course some leaders add to the problem by labeling anyone who disagrees with them as a troublemaker and surrounding themselves with suck ups. (Who doesn’t like a little non-obvious fawning now and then? It sure does the ego good.) But this does not relieve those who are led from the responsibility to be honest in their interactions with their leaders. And it does not relieve leaders of their responsibility to cultivate honest relationships.
So the question I should be asking myself is: “Do I support my leaders and consequently my organization/society with honest relationships, with honest interactions?” And if I am in a leadership position, I should also be asking myself: “Do I cultivate honest relationships or do I encourage dishonest ones that stroke my ego but hurt my organization/society?”
What this comes down to is humility and love. We need to let go of our own egos and be confident in ourselves to be able to be truthful with ourselves, our leaders, and those we have the responsibility to lead. We need to love others enough to do what is best, not what pleases. Only then can we be grounded in reality because honest relationships are the only thing that can keep us grounded and break down our self-constructed worlds.