Leadership in Exile

Where have all the leaders gone?

Leadership in Exile

If that title doesn’t grab your attention, then nothing will. Our political and social structure here in the U.S.A. provides little context for the concept of being an exile. The closest thing that many in our society or culture can come to the ethos of being an exile is the practice among some cultures where one is shunned under certain conditions. But, even that does not really comport with our modern sensibilities.

What do I mean by “Exile”?

So, what do I mean when I use the word “exile” in the context of leadership? To be clear, I am not using that word within the context of a forced departure or a violent takeover that leaves the deposed leader nowhere to go but into hiding in a barren land or to the relative safety of a benevolent benefactor. Instead, I think that I really should be using the term – “self-exile.” Because I believe that there are many leaders who have taken themselves “out of the game” when it comes to leadership. They have opted to, in a sense, go underground and not seek to be a visible or vocal leader. 

Why are they Self-Exiled?

Perhaps that is the greater question? Why are they choosing to vacate their responsibility or opportunity to lead? Consider the following as some reasons that leaders have self-exiled.

They Are Exhausted – For many leaders the act of leadership has become tiresome and exhausting. Leadership has long been seen as an aspiration throughout history for many. That is no longer true. Many today would rather toil in obscurity and work remotely than to be engaged in the day to day emotional struggle that is leadership. If there is a positive spin to put on this one, it would be that maybe they are just doing what many in the ministry or academic field do – they are really just taking a sabbatical.

They Are Frustrated – They are frustrated with themselves, with the current situation, with the outlook for the future, and with the level of support that they are getting from their leader. And that has demoralized them and caused them to lose hope.

They Are Not Being Followed – They look around and they don’t have the followers that they used to. Perhaps they have not grown and adjusted their style to the new generations around them. Perhaps they no longer have the skills to lead. Or, perhaps they are not holding the banner of leadership high enough to be seen by those who would or should be following them.

They Are Not Supported – They are going into exile because of the lack of support from their leaders. They desperately need the vocal, financial, moral, physical or emotional support of their leaders and they just are not getting it.

They Are Seen as a Threat to Other Leaders – They are viewed by other leaders as a threat to their own leadership. This may be one of the dirty little secrets within the leadership community. Once a new leader begins to develop a following, many times, other leaders feel threatened and will undermine their leadership. I have seen this one many times in my lifetime of leadership efforts.

What can you do while exiled?

Most individuals who were exiled or who fled their native land did not spend that period of their life in idle desperation. Instead, many used forms of expression that maximized their existing talents to influence the culture. You only have to look to the literary world to see some fine examples of great works created while the writer was in exile. Consider these great works:

  • Earnest Hemingway wrote “The Sun Also Rises” while in self-imposed exile in France.
  • Victor Hugo wrote “Les Miserables” while exiled in Guernsey on the English Channel.
  • Dante wrote “The Divine Comedy” while exiled from Florence.

Perhaps you would do well to consider putting some of your thoughts on leadership down on paper and expressing yourself and documenting your experiences. These three literary examples have withstood the test of time and Dante’s work goes back more than 700 years. That is a pretty impressive tenure of influence.

Leader -|- Follower -|- Guide

I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.