Typically, leadership has been viewed as a positive phenomenon. The modern leadership movement, in particular, has promoted various models of individual leadership for emulation by the heads of organizations, or those who aspire to those positions. When thought has been spared for those who are “led,” various superficially developed notions of “followership” have been spun out. These are also positive, generally, although their basic thrust is to emphasize the value of the followers in validating the virtues, and in giving expression to, the aims of the leader.
Recently, however, a darker view of the matter has begun to emerge. Whether in reaction to the excesses of the modern leadership movement itself, or merely to those of its devotees, observers are remarking on the shortcomings both of individual leadership and of the “followership” that, they now argue, perpetuates those shortcomings.
A review in the 2 September 2004 edition of The Economist covers two books that are critical of the sort of view of individual leadership that, viewed in isolation, has produced many of those modern practitioners that have perpetrated contemptible acts ranging from genocide to the collapse of huge, but hollow, business enterprises. In addition to condemning such leaders and cataloging them and their failings, these books attempt to understand why their followers let them get away with it. Based on the review, it would appear, however, that we are offered little more than some, perhaps, thought-provoking questions.
One of the authors is quoted as explaining leadership to be the interactive relationship between leaders and followers, which results in the latter being persuaded or motivated to follow the former. From this uninspiring foundation, we go on to learn that “followership” is our response to the presence of a “leader” who gives a personal sense of meaning to our lives, of our place in the stream of events in which we find ourselves. Both authors seem to focus, however, on the problem of how to limit the damage done by bad leaders, or by good leaders gone bad. The review returns to topic by closing with a bit of psychobabble from a psychologist/consultant who argues that “followership” is, in essence, an extension into adulthood of childish dependence on others.
What are we supposed to conclude from that? That we are like the family dog, our development permanently arrested in a childhood dependence on the master by the very process of domestication (or, leadership)? Is individual leadership, and our craving for it, really so toxic? Or is this just the other side of the coin, the valuable metal of which is an untoward emphasis on the virtues (good or bad) of the leader, and the alloy filler of which is the followership, viewed paternalistically as an incompletely developed mass, lacking truly good bloodlines, acquiring value only from its association and supportive interaction with the greatness to which it clings?
The original side of that coin, however positive a role it pretends to assign to “followership,” is just as paternalistic. Even Mary Parker Follett, whose insights in the 1920s and 1930s were, generally, so incisive and prescient, and whose fundamental observations about organizational design were praised in Managing Leadership, viewed followership in this way. She argued that followers “have a very active role to play and that is to keep the leader in control of a situation.” That pretty much sums up the view of the modern leadership movement.
A more accurate view, however, is that leadership neither resides solely at the top of the organization or of any particular subcomponent of it, nor does followership passively await instructions (or actively seek out opportunities) to express that leadership. Such views, whether taken in the context of a generally positive or negative view of leadership, distort the actual operation of this phenomenon in organizations of all kinds. Leadership, as explained in Managing Leadership, arises from within the organization, generated from the group’s cohesion, which itself issues from the purpose that the members have been gathered together to collaboratively accomplish. Leadership is expressed by all of those in the organization who partake of this group cohesion. The modern cult of individual leadership, albeit usually unknowingly, suppresses and distorts this natural phenomenon. Intelligent managers, in contrast, cultivate and deploy it.
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Coming up for discussion:
We will complete our review of Professor John Adair’s work in the area of leadership with a review of his book, “The Inspirational Leader.” As always, we will discuss the concepts of this book in their own right, as well as comparing them with the concepts offered in Managing Leadership.
Additionally, we will be commenting on events in contemporary organizational life, as they relate (or not!) to the concepts of Managing Leadership. Stop in and join us!
News about the book:
Professor John Walsh has published a review of Managing Leadership at BookPleasures.com – stop by to see why he believes the book to be “an interesting and sophisticated approach to the issue of modern leadership.”
The international best-selling author of business books on diversity and motivation in the workplace, BJ Gallagher, has endorsed Managing Leadership. Stop by the book’s website to see why she insists you must “read it and reap!” BJ’s famous “A Peacock in the Land of Penguins” has generated massive sales around the world, as well as a huge and dedicated following. It has become a regular part of training programs at all levels for major corporations across the globe. Now, her new developing blockbuster, “Who are ‘They’ Anyway?” is set to accomplish similar benefits for how organizations and their members see themselves and their relationship in their common endeavor. We are very proud that this insightful and accomplished author has endorsed Managing Leadership.
Managing Leadership is currently featured as a highlighted book on the popular and highly regarded bookstore for the leadership community, LeaderShop – stop by and check it out, now! And while you’re there, be sure to explore this suite of fascinating sites dedicated to leadership; see them all from the parent site, LeadershipNow.com.
New reviews and endorsements for Managing Leadership are in! Stop by the website to learn more about the new John Walsh review and interview, and an endorsement by a major bestselling business author – and more! While you’re there, sign up for the new, revised newsletter so you won’t miss out on future developments.
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