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I recently heard of an interesting condition called the Tall Poppy Syndrome. In a nutshell Tall Poppy Syndrome draws its name from the fact that it is the tallest poppies that get cut first. The syndrome is used to describe the situation where those who rise up to the challenge and respond to our pleas for involvement and leadership are all too often the target of our disparagement- sometimes for no other reason than they are a visible and easily identifiable target.

In a recent survey we asked the Chamber membership a series of questions about the leadership in Halifax. The majority of respondents, 51% felt that there was a leadership crisis in Halifax. 79% felt that the business community needed to take on more of a leadership role, however only 29% considered running for public office.

Is this surprising to anyone? Why would people step forward into the political ring when their every past deed is open to scrutiny, where their every word is subject to public misinterpretation and where their every action is considered fair game for public disclosure? Who amongst us could stand that level of scrutiny?

While I will never say that public leaders should not be held accountable they should be afforded a degree of respect for their effort and for their privacy appropriate to the position that they hold.   While we may not always agree with what our political leaders say and do, we did elect them and they are at least putting themselves out there, subjecting themselves to criticism.

But the concepts of the Tall Poppy Syndrome are not just applied to our elected government. The same is true of all those people who step forward to raise funds for charity, who volunteer to lead Girl Guide troops and who coach our children’s sports teams. Even among this group of community leaders there exists the public belief that we can scream obscenities at the referee of a children’s soccer match, or criticize a volunteer committee for doing things differently than we might do.

So where do we go from here? The first step to solving the leadership crisis that seems to be on the minds of so many people is to stop making the job of leader quite so unattractive. While we may not support every action, idea or initiative made by elected officials, or community leaders we should at the very least respect that they were willing to stand up higher than the rest, running the risk of all that is wrong about the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Originally appeared in Business Voice Magazine, November 2007