The End of Drama Is the Start of Leadership

Excerpt from “Save Your Drama for Your Mama: Drama or Leadership Is a Choice” by Charlie Sheppard (A Choice Publishing, April 2013).

By Charlie Sheppard

Using contrast—comparing opposites—to transfer knowledge is not new. The Chinese philosophy of the “I Ching,” written during the early Han dynasty to identify the principle workings of the Universe, put forth the concept of the Yin and Yang. Much more recently, 20th century French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his influential book, “The Raw and the Cooked,”discussed how people best understand concepts presented in opposite pairs. Lévi-Strauss looked at the power of metaphor and saw that the basic patterns were the same: the contrast of life and death, hard and soft, loud and quiet. He showed that myths are the same stories across all cultures, and all have structures based on opposites, which allow us to understand the fundamental lesson more easily. Our myths shape our social, national, and corporate cultures and the way we think about ourselves.

The greater the contrast of these opposites—the more obvious the distinction—the easier it is to understand something.For instance, a police car uses red and blue lights because these two colors create the maximum contrast during the day and night, as well as in relationship to each other. Imagine what would happen if traffic signals used red lights for Stop and pink lights for Go—the colors red and pink contrast one another to such a small degree that they would be difficult to distinguish from one another, and that would be dangerous.

Historically, leadership most often has been contrasted with management. However, management is notthe opposite of leadership. But drama is. Management is in many ways a poor contrast to leadership, like contrasting red and pink stop lights. The distinction between the two would be difficult to identify and understand. We’ve all known managers who are also good leaders.

Drama, however, creates a high contrast with leadership and is the complete opposite. I believe that as people begin to really understand drama, they are on the quickest and most productive road to learning about leadership because the law of contrast accelerates learning. People are always trying to make sense of things, and when doing so, they don’t actually think about something by itself, as it is. Instead, they compare it to something else. You can apply the idea of contrast by thinking about these two questions: Who has taught you the most about effective leadership? In contrast, who has taught you what poor leadership looks like? You can learn more about leadership by thinking about both of these questions.

I propose that you can’t fully actualize your leadership potential without first eliminating drama from your life, your team, and your organization. The challenge is that you come hardwired for drama, but you do not come hardwired for leadership, although leadership is a choice you can make at any point in time.

Why don’t more people make this choice? The answer is that all human beings are born into an environment of dependency. Of all the species on the planet, we are most dependent upon our parents; we couldn’t survive without them. When you were born, you were completely dependent upon your parents or caregiver for your survival. When infants and children are incapable of meeting their own needs, they must depend upon the external environment to meet their needs. No other species is reliant or dependent upon external resources for as long as a human child. We learn how to be dependent before we learn how to speak, and, therefore, dependency is in our deep, long-term memory.

This concept begins to provide us with a bit of insight into how this dependency became imprinted and patterned, and how it can continue on into later life. In our brain’s early stages of development, we create neurological patterns of dependency. These patterns set the environment that leads to drama. We are all wired for the roles of drama; it comes as standard equipment with every human being. What is optional, however, is leadership. Leadership development takes an intentional choice, and every person has to make it for themselves. Making this choice is the start to unlocking an individual’s full potential.

Leadership, at its most basic level, is found in your ability to choose, to be clear about your intentions and actions. Leadership is a choice and must emanate from within you—whether you are the leader of a nation, a company, a softball team, or no one but yourself. When you lead, you free yourself from being a slave of circumstances. The subsequent power you receive from your choices enhances your ability to create, actively join with others, develop new ideas, and generate value for your society and yourself.

Genuine leadership has to come from within. You must be true to yourself by exploring your own motivations, gathering feedback on your personal behavior, and ensuring that your actions are consistent with your stated values and principles. This can be done by carefully examining the choices you make. For example, take the time to pause and ask yourself, “Am I on automatic pilot here or did I choose this path?” It is always our choice to participate in a particular action. If we assume others are responsible for our actions and we are just spectators who do not choose to be responsible, then others may just lead us into a future we do not want. It is always a choice to not be responsible, but we lose the power to make a difference when we give up our birthright to choose.

You get to choose your response at any moment in time. Boldness and choosing to act creates results, and shifting from drama to leadership pays off with big dividends. If you make the choice for leadership often enough, you establish a pattern that will serve you for the rest of your life; additionally, establishing this pattern is the best way to create an environment where drama cannot exist.

By simply shifting your language from saying, “I have to go to work,” to “I choose to go to work,” you will increase your energy. If you practice making more choices, you will increase your energy. The true definition of leadership is in its ability to generate more energy both for you and the people you lead. The more you choose, the more energy you will generate. Abdicating your ability to choose is still a choice, but it is not a wise one. Being a leader who generates a positive energy is the best way to keep yourself and your team out of drama. The world needs leaders in every capacity, and we could do with a lot less drama.

Excerpt from “Save Your Drama for Your Mama: Drama or Leadership Is a Choice” by Charlie Sheppard (A Choice Publishing, April 2013). For more information, visit

Charlie Sheppard is the author of “Save Your Drama for Your Mama” and the founder of Sheppard Partners, a management consulting firm. He is also a professor of Leadership and Management at Hult International Business School.

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