In his classic book Psycho-Cybernetics, plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz wrote that many of his patients were not helped by his surgery because what was getting in their way of happiness was "more than skin deep."
It was as if personality itself had a "face." . . . If it remained scarred, distorted, "ugly," or inferior, the person himself acted out this role in his behavior regardless of the changes in physcial appearance. If this "face of personality" could be reconstructed, if old emotional scars could be removed; then the person himself changed, even without facial plastic surgery. Once I began to explore this area, I found more and more phenomena which confirmed the fact that ‘self-image’, the individual’s mental and spiritual picture of himself, is the real key to personality and behavior. ...
Dr. Maltz explained why he changed his professional direction.
These observations led me into a new career. ...I became convinced that the people who consult a plastic surgeon need more than surgery and that some of them do not need
surgery at all. If I were to treat these people as patients, as a whole person rather than as merely a nose, ear, mouth, arm or leg, I needed to be in a position to give them something more. I needed to be able to show them how to obtain a spiritual face lift, how to remove emotional scars, how to change their attitudes and thoughts as well as their physical appearance.
This plastic surgeon developed a method of working with people's thoughts and attitudes, and then wrote a book that's sold millions of copies and been in print for decades.
For a couple of years, I have been thinking about how many of us (myself included) live at the level of facelifts. Odd as it may seem, I first applied the facelift concept when talking about why I wrote my book on designing funerals. When describing funerals that did not satisfy, that were cookie-cutter, that missed the essence of the deceased, I coined the term "facelift funerals." (Click to watch a short interview of me about that kind of funeral at The Family Plot.)
In a review of the literature on the development of leaders, I realized that the adjective "facelift" could also be applied to leadership. In fact, one of several reasons I am critical of many books and articles about leadership is that they focus on leadership at the level of facelift. They are surface, focused on the wrong goals, and ultimately useless.
Television and movies play a part in facelift living, facelift leadership. Just as television can (and often does) give law students a woefully inaccurate idea of the day-to-day life of a lawyer, so do the media give budding leaders a skewed and unhelpful notion of the role of a true leader. Just like the articles and books I mention above, the media often portray and promote facelift leadership.
At the blog of IEDP (International Executive Development Programs), Roderick Millar writes about the media abetting a skewed idea of leadership. From "The Sherlock Holmes Approach to Problem Solving":
The lesson that is of interest to us here though, is that what makes good cinema - and takes us away from the rather more frustratingly paced progress of real life - is the reverse of good management and particularly good leadership. We want to follow leaders that we can trust - this is well documented as a key facet of good leadership and nine times out of ten, probably ninety-nine times out of one hundred, we trust leaders that do not shake up the world for no reason other than to aggrandise themselves. ...
Millar blogs that the version of Sherlock Holmes in the new Holmes movie is not true to the books.
[Director Guy] Ritchie's trademark approach to films is based around violence and gang culture - but Holmes was very much the antithesis of this. What makes the deer-stalker and cape wearer so interesting is that he solves his cases by identifying the clues and piecing the jigsaw together as a cerebral not a muscular task.
Sherlock Holmes was not a facelift detective.
While we may not want to go and watch this style of movie - it is regrettable that a great reflective role-model is being morphed into another action-hero so shifting the balance yet further away from the leadership styles we need.
Of course, the contemplative role model, the mindful detective, even the self-aware leader, would not make for good box office or headlines. So we get the more brash, adrenaline-propelled, muscular-instead-of-mindful characters starring on our screens and in our news. The media typically give us facelift leadership. Instead of the soul, we get the surface.
Where do we go to find role models with a Holmesian nature? Role models who are thought heroes? Role models with deeper-than-skin character? Your thoughts?
Note (added January 19, 2012): Here's a related article about the negative response some may have to older people trying to look younger: "Act Your Age" (Association for Psychological Science). They may see it as deceit. This sensing of deceit, of inauthenticity, are likely responses from followers of a facelift leader, too.
Note (added February 15, 2012): A related blog post (read the whole post because the title is a bit misleading): Mental health problems worsen after cosmetic surgery (BPS Research Digest).