Leading When the Lines Are All Blurred


Have you ever thought about all the lines that have been erased in the last 50 years?  It hit me when I was listening to a story about the number and impact of “soldier bloggers” in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Technology has eliminated the line between journalists and troops, and the line between commanders and troops.  Families and citizens back home can as easily, and often preferably, hear from a real soldier as from a newspaper writer or a military spokesperson.  So also, photos and videos can rip down the screen that used to shield combat and instead now expose the horrors of war for all the world to see.

In our everyday lives, nearly every significant line has also been obliterated.  One of the brightest lines – separating male from female – has been made nearly invisible, at work or home.  Women rule. Men raise kids, wear perfume, carry purses.  So, also the line around marriage too is riddled with openings.  Females marry and make love to females, males with males. Some people change gender altogether.

Line after line, gone.  Night and day blur – with electrical lights and technologies that make commerce or conversation 24/7 and global.  You can’t tell the customers from the checkout clerks at Meijer.  Catholics kids like me and my Protestant friends who were told we came from rival churches increasingly realize how foolhardy that was. One God, one Christ, and a lot of silly man-made lines and compartments.  (An extraordinary TED Talk finds unity well beyond Christianity.)  Father doesn’t know best.  The boss isn’t always right. And sensible businesses know:  neither is the customer.

The orthodox still insist on lines of demarcation and demonization – in religion, nationhood, clan, business, sports team. They live off lines, distinctions, and fear of “the other” – Black, gay, Mexican, or right-wing, Muslim, Republican, Hutu, Shiite, feminist…  But our common sense, science, the free market, and free speech continue to eat away at idiotic barriers and meaningless lines, separating facades from the genuine authentic insides.  If these sweeping observations seem like a bit much for a Tuesday morning at the office, allow me to draw two simple conclusions.

First, authority buys you a little time and a little cover, but only the authentic prevails.  Authentic love (compassion and the golden rule) and authentic truth (a fair description of what we can sense) are all that really matter.  If you want to lead with authority – as parent, boss, teacher, principal, executive director – don’t hide behind your authority, but instead always seek to rely on those two things that matter and endure.

Second, when leading without authority, the same rules apply.  In some ways, it’s always been true that anyone could  lead, but the ability to do so has never been greater. The lines have never been as relaxed. The strongest barriers aren’t outside any more; they’re inside. From what we used to call “below” or “outside” you can change your company, your church, your family, your city. And enduring power to do so comes from that same place – authentic love and truth.  And it takes one more thing: the decision to step over the well-eroded line that kept you out and so, to

Lead with your best self,


  • Hi Dan
    A trend in organizations is matrix management. In the new matrix management, cross functional partner relationships are important. The organization is vision and values driven, not authority driven. The boundaries between functions often need to be negotiated. If you see a problem, you gather the resources you need to solve it. This is difficult for many people because it requires people to step up and lead and to make decisions. I find people longing for a leader who will make the decision for them. Instead people need to take the initiative and determine everyone who is affected; get their input; and make something good happen. Anyone can lead in this system, if they are willing.

  • William,
    Great connection to matrix work, and to the critical importance of instilling initiative in our young people! Thanks,

  • Like your “same rules apply” quote, Dan.

    This “rules quote” complies with my assumption and belief that, “Truth flows from universal law, not from personal views.”

  • Dan, if our everyday leaders have made the leap that the lines are now blurred, how do we get our government to understand and govern to it rather than their antiquated ideas of what America should be like?

  • Unlike the positional power of bureaucracies (and bureaucracies we’ll always have with us), affiliative power–the power to be liked and to influence–cannot be bought or sold or transferred. It’s earned with integrity and compassion.

    We all have multiple identities to align with. Consider your LinkedIn profile. Neighbor, friend, colleague, former colleague, co-worker, subordinate, sports friends, Weight Watchers group, relative, etc. These are ways to connect, not divide.

    A la _The Tipping Point_, we all have the power to be connectors.

    So much can be accomplished if we don’t care who gets the credit for it.

  • My real power as a representative of the state comes not from the legal authority given me by the state; it comes from my authenticity, from who I am as a person. Do those who come before me have respect for me as a person? Do my actions back up my words? Do I show them respect, courtesy and fairness? Do I demonstrate by my words and deeds that I care about their success? Do I communicate that although they have made a poor choice–or too often a whole series of poor choices– they are still capable of redemption, still capable of better choices in the future. As Dan points out, real authority comes when leaders act with love and truth. I hope that on my good days, that’s me.

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