The Urban Man
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Natural Born Leaders

Here in America, we work hard to cultivate leaders. We hold leadership seminars, we put up leadership posters, we celebrate risk-taking. And I guess it works — I mean you never know when someone will suddenly grab the flag, blaze a new trail, or think out of the box.

Along the way, the rest of us get tied, you know, to their bold visions.

Over the years, I've learned that you have to be most careful of your natural born leaders. Not to be sexist, but these are mostly guys born with that extra measure of testosterone, the scent of which attracts we followers like posses of flies.

Surely the financial crisis was caused by natural born leaders like the CEO's of Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch and Lehman. Such chutzpah could never be taught, and it makes you wonder if, for example, a financial institution should be run not by a natural born leader, but a natural born bean counter, a person who prefers, well, staying in the box.

Sometimes I work as a marketing consultant — which means it's not my job to come up with new concepts, but to promote the concepts of born leaders.

One night, not long ago, I found myself hurtling across the state in the cabin of a large limousine where just across the aisle sat a natural born leader. He was relaxed, fit, collar loose, aged only 40, and sipping a scotch. I was one of five or six consultants and VP-types trying not to look weary at two a.m. Even at that hour, our leader was articulating concepts and we were fleshing them out as the lights of sleeping cities flashed by all helpless and unknowing in the dark.

This leader is the CEO of a large company, and trust me, he's a natural born superhuman. He never tires, and even come 2:30 a.m. in the midst of a recession, he displays an energetic smile and remarkable will, thrilling us by yes, thinking out of the box. He says, "Maybe we should expand into transportation or nursing homes. Lots of these companies won't survive, but during this window, we may be able to acquire their assets for a single dollar — just by agreeing to take on their debt."

His words may or may not make sense, but they come with force, and as we lesser men crowd close, the cabin fills with the sweet and slightly acrid smell of his male hormones.

Me, I think how once upon a time a man like this might have been the chief of a primitive tribe, and instead of his limo, we followers might have crouched in his smoky sweathouse, plotting to overrun a neighboring village with machetes. In another century, he might have run a duchy, and we'd have crouched in his horse-drawn carriage, adjusting our doublets as we planned to invade some other duchy. Basically, one way or another, in whatever age we occupied, we'd be transfixed by the glitter in his eyes.

In fact, I often think: "Thank G-d for the rise of capitalism." Surely, no safer use of excess testosterone has ever been found. People who are angry at the leaders who brought us the present financial disaster should be glad we're not living through disasters wrought by leaders like… Genghis Khan. Tonight our merry band speaks only of spreadsheets not machetes, and our man's blue eyes glitter only with a harmless monetary desire.

Well, mostly harmless.

Now its three a.m., the scotch has finally gone to my head, and I allow myself to slide back into the richly upholstered leather. As I drift off, I say to myself, "Don't trouble yourself about the road ahead, Mr. Urban Man. See that handsome fellow across the aisle, just 40, with the electric smile? He'll stay awake and go on making plans for you all night long."

Copyright (c) 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved. Facts have been altered to protect the author.

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