‘We-dership’ and the Search for Purpose

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison finds a shared purpose among people coming together to help after recent tragedies.

Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of "The Leadership Journey: How to Master the Four Critical Areas of Being a Great Leader."

Differences overshadow commonalities. Self-interest trumps shared interest. Except not recently.

A towering inferno in London spun into weeks of destructive hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, and now a massacre in Las Vegas. The lives lost, the terrible images, have made these past few months tough for many to endure.

But there have been other images as well—images of hope and humanity. Images that show we can be blind to the very preconceived biases that we all have. Images that have no left or right.

I’m talking about the acts of heroism that followed so many of the recent tragedies: Jonathan Smith, a 30-year-old machine repairman, who saved the lives of as many as 30 concertgoers in Las Vegas before being shot in the neck but surviving himself. People donating more than $37 million to Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt’s online campaign for his city’s hurricane relief efforts.

And it has extended far beyond that, with donations of blood, clothing, diapers, food, and other humanitarian aid pouring into Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and elsewhere following other mass tragedies.

For myself, I began to realize this in June in London. It was upsetting, of course, seeing the images on BBC of the Grenfell Tower fire, but I was soon struck seeing other images—of this great mosaic of people from all backgrounds offering aid. There was no leader telling people to do this; there was instead a sense of “we-dership” that instilled the collective to do the greater good.

A few months ago, I wrote about the troubling rise of “me-dership,” which is characterized by the egocentric, command-driven, authoritative style of leadership that is becoming too prevalent in government today. But the acts of humanity of late have revealed how instinctually people and groups of all backgrounds will come together. No leader is telling them what to do. They didn’t need it and they didn’t want it. They acted behind a purpose. The same people who may have been divided only days ago now were together.