The ‘L’ Word. Leadership is Not a Dirty Word.

Perbi Executive Leadership Education (PELÉ) just concluded a successful co-hosting of the annual John Maxwell Team conference dubbed Live2Lead in Accra. Corporate, non-profit and other leaders in Ghana experienced in real-time, via simulcast, the motions colleagues in Atlanta, Georgia were also going through in the United States. Live2Lead. Live is an ‘L’ word, so is Lead. Yet Google “The ‘L’ Word” and you are more likely to be greeted with Lesbian or even Los Angeles and not Lead(ership). In fact, a certain Showtime drama series that depicts these other L’s and aired in the first decade of this century dominates the internet should you conduct “the ‘L’ word” phrase search.

For us at PELÉ, Leadership is the ‘L’ word. If Dr. John C. Maxwell is right that “leaders see everything with a leadership bias,” then is it any wonder? This is incredibly important to us in our quest to form a global ecosystem of authentic leaders that in our DeepLEADTM courses, the first of all 24 modules (in a three-part series comprising eight modules each) is actually entitled “The ‘L’ Word.” We LOVE Leadership.

Some associate leadership with politics and because “politics is dirty” leadership gets a bad rap; leadership then becomes a dirty word and a dirty thing. Politics, like any other worthwhile thing, can be dirty. But even when and where it is true that “politics is dirty,” leadership is bigger than politics. In fact, our founding principal at PELÉ is on record to have said that “leadership is too important to leave it to politicians alone.” Similarly, because “Gen Z doesn’t do hierarchy,” the current rejection of twentieth century ‘command and control’ and ‘authoritarian’ leadership to rather embrace a flatter perception of the leader—plus the notion of twenty-first century ‘distributed leadership’—also tends to make the word ‘leadership’ undesirable, even demonized in some quarters today. For many, leaders and leadership have had a bad rap, a negative reputation, hence the title and subtitle of the first of our DeepLEADTM modules, The ‘L’ Word—Leadership is not a dirty word, with the wild hope to change that narrative in the head and heart of anyone who cares to pay attention. We establish the paradigm that the current rejection of twentieth century ‘command and control’ and ‘authoritarian’ leadership and the embracing of a flatter perception of the leader plus and distributed leadership does not exclude how vital leadership is and what it can/cannot do.


‘O’ for Objectives

While the overall aim of the DeepLEADTM Growth Series is “to establish an indisputable link between the person of the leader—including their self-awareness, life story, character, temperament, habits, emotional health—and the success of leadership,” the specific objectives of The “L’ Word module include exposing students to the wide array of leadership opinions and definitions to appreciate the breath and nuance of the ‘L’ subject. By the end of the course, one would’ve laid “the foundation for the topic of leadership in a memorable and definitive way for not just the course itself but for all of life.” While one would’ve compared and contrasted two dozen leadership definitions and descriptions, studied a 200-year panorama of leadership paradigms from the Great Man Theory of the 1800s to Authentic Leadership or Adaptive Leadership of the first and second decades of this century respectively, there’s an all-encompassing Dr. Yaw Perbi definition of a leader, which we use throughout the course and in our engagements with clients.


‘D’ for Definitions

It has been interesting observing the definitions and descriptions of leadership that have most caught the attention and strummed the heartstrings of the October 2023 cohort of the DeepLEADTM live Masterclass. Already, the fact that DeepLEADTM embraces complexity, straddles paradigms and tames tensions is forming these in them as they grapple with definitions that even seem contradictory, like Mandela’s shepherd paradigm of leading from behind and fellow Noble Prize laureate Mott’s whose definition of leadership is being in front and staying ahead! Here’s John R. Mott (Nobel Peace Prize laureate 1946): “Leaders are people who know the road, and who can keep ahead, and who can pull others after them.” Here comes Nelson R. Mandela (Nobel Peace Prize laureate 1993): “A leader…is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” The DeepLEADer has the wisdom to know when and where to be ahead or lead from behind.

Whether it’s the leadership theories, descriptions or definitions in The ‘L’ Word module, by the end of it leaders undergoing it would realize that no one theory, description or definition is enough to explain all of leadership. Warren Bennis captures the nuance and complexity of the ‘L’ word well when he asserts, “Like love, leadership is something that everybody knows exists, but no one can define…” No wonder, he explains, “decades of academic analysis have given us more than 350 definitions of leadership.”



What dominates our minds when it comes to “the ‘L’ word” is miles apart from what populates a typical Google search today. But Leadership is the ‘L’ word. And it is incredibly important, as strongly put in the DeepLEADTM series, that because “everything rises and falls on leadership” and “leadership is cause, everything else is effect,” one day, eventually, Leadership will get the most results in an internet search for “the ‘L’ word.” In the course we state, and it bears repeating, that “Whether in normal times or unusual ones, the tenets and principles of great leadership ought to be passed on to each generation.” So no matter what letters we assign to the generations–X, Y, Z, Alpha, whatever–that in each and every generation, the ‘L’ word would be Leadership. That’s what we live for, why we’re here. We live to lead.


Post Script

DeepLEADTM is for any leader seeking profound, authentic transformation—of self, systems & society—that lasts. There is a live DeepLEADTM Masterclass currently ongoing. Watch out for the launch of the online pre-recorded, self-paced version in December 2023.

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