Leadership: The Rise of a Troubling Truth

New Zealand Management, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Leadership: The Rise of a Troubling Truth


Byline: Reg Birchfield

There's something rotten about the world of leadership. New findings and thinking about the authenticity of leadership and the "industry" that feeds upon the idea of leadership are emerging like bedbugs in New York's upmarket hotels. Worse, they are rapidly turning a previously heroic script into what can only be described as a farce, one we are forced to watch endlessly play out on the world stage.

Both players and script writers are seemingly in cahoots and, as is now common practice in business and politics, unmercifully fleecing the punters.

How do we, for example, reconcile the time, thought and money poured into leadership pursuits only to produce universally fruitless outcomes? Leadership thinker and author Barbara Kellerman, whose latest book The End of Leadership is reviewed on page 22 in this issue, is particularly perturbed.

The leadership industry has exploded over the past few decades, but there is little to show for it. Leaders of every stripe are in disrepute, according to Kellerman, and the "tireless and often superficial teachings of leadership have brought us no closer to nirvana".

Kellerman is concerned by what she calls the gap between the teaching and practice of leadership. And she is "downright queasy" about the proliferation of leadership centres, institutes, programmes, seminars, workshops, experiences, trainers, books, blogs, articles, websites, webinars, videos, conferences, consultants and coaches claiming to teach people -- "usually for money" -- how to lead.

The evidence of our eyes and everyday experiences show all too conclusively that no-one really knows how to successfully grow leaders or cull bad ones before they reap havoc. Despite the dollars and deliberations poured into trying to teach people how to lead, the "leadership industry has not in any major, meaningful or measurable way improved the human condition", says Kellerman.

The evolution of a gathering band of leadership agnostics is not particularly helpful. They may be drawing attention to an alarming reality but they don't come armed with any answers.

It might be helpful, as some other academics have suggested, to have the many contradictions, inconsistencies and irrelevancies of what passes for leadership thought and training enumerated, but that doesn't really help a world badly in need of individuals with real and relevant leadership qualities and skills. …

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