We have seen, since the opening of the current series on the problems with the notion of individual leadership in organizations, that the most fundamental of them is that such leadership is inescapably not about those organizations – it is about the purportedly peerless and vital qualities of those putative leaders. Whatever after-thoughts or carefully contrived qualifications are thrown at the topic, there is no avoiding the truth about individual leadership as “discovered” and promoted by the modern leadership movement (MLM): it is about relationships with individuals who exhibit the described leadership – it is only peripherally, if at all, about the work at hand, from which, in any event, it most decidedly does not arise.
We have also looked at some examples of what appear to be actual instances of individual leadership in the workplace, only to see that they are either not really examples of leadership or are clearly not results of the teachings or other activities of the MLM.
That’s a peculiar puzzle, isn’t it? After all, the MLM has been pontificating for decades now (with surprising cacophony, given the uniformly stentorian voice) that they know what it is, why you need it, and how you can employ their expertise to get it yourself – either personally or in your organization.
But how many such leadership systems – whether executed in educational institutions such as universities, or by training programs within endeavors of various types and sizes – are actually developing leaders? Do you know of any? How many reliably emit “leaders” – according to one or another system certified by the “studies” of this or that guru – who fit the MLM mold? Do they suddenly start having awe-inspiring visions, generate creativity-enhancingly large goals (I hesitate using the at once crass and utterly inane – quite literally stupefying – phrases used by MLM gurus to describe these), or do they begin on cue to develop fundamentally profound understanding of and connections with their “followers?”
And speaking of that, do “followers” suddenly start gravitating toward these newly-minted “leaders” as soon as they are ejected from the starry-eyed end of this mysteriously storied leadership development system? Here they are, reentering the organization, thoughtfully stroking their chins over the gravity of the issues they now heroically perceive and confront, gazing wistfully upward lost in their visions of the future, bestowing empowering and affirming smiles of understanding and appreciation on those around them, or – most distressingly of all – doing all of these at once.
Are you (or anyone) satisfied with that? Is it what you wanted? Is it leadership? Is it remotely like what you thought you were getting, what you were promised?
Of course not. And it can hardly be surprising that this should be so. There is no such thing as a leadership development program, however well-intentioned as most are, that develops individual leaders with personal – that is, work-unrelated or context-free – skills and abilities that result in their being characterizable individually as leaders in any fashion at all; certainly not as prescribed by the various advocates of the MLM.
Why not? For one thing, for all the brook-no-doubts certainty of the many mutually inconsistent depictions of what it is, no one really knows what it is. Nor, actually, can anyone really prove that it (as a distinct, reliably describable and replicable personality type) even exists.
Moreover, even if you stipulate to one or another of the noisily competing theories about it, no one has proven that the exemplars specified by any of these can be trained or developed. And even if you acknowledge that much, it remains necessary to note that neither has anyone shown that they can be identified, culled from the crowed, and groomed.
There is no proof, no evidence – none – that “leaders” of the superlative ilk promoted by the MLM can be developed. So what of the many leadership development programs – particularly those in-house to the benefiting organizations – that are widely respected and have evolved consistent and reliable methodology for producing graduates that are highly regarded and demonstrably beneficial to their outfits? How are they to be explained?
Easy: they don’t produce leaders. Whatever terminology they prefer to employ, they are producing managers. Thoughtful, goal-oriented, integrative managers. It would be best for all concerned if they acknowledged that, and removed the last vestiges of self-deluding dross that unproductively burden their programs and the self-perceptions of their graduates.
We’ll discuss this in more detail in the coming weeks. Looking forward to your visits and observations as we do.
Today’s tips: “Often the ability of followers to succeed in spite of leadership inanities is a more fascinating process question” – any essay with a phrase like that is worth reading. Stop by to see Fred Schlegel‘s post at the Frog Blog.
As always, if it’s not about the work, it is going to be a problem. Please see Steve Roesler at All Things Workplace for yet another example of how and why.
Please see this WSJ article and observe the curious attitude and “What, me worry?” comments of the CEO of the highlighted company. What is the secret of success here: the management, the nature of the business, or perhaps the quality of the workforce?
There is no better advice for how to work your way out of a stumbling block than that offered by Cultural Offering – note his attribution at the end.
We appreciate your visits here very much, and would love to have you as a regular reader. Please take a moment to subscribe, either by email or via an RSS reader, using the options available just below or at the upper right. And welcome aboard!
Technorati Tags: leadership, organization, leader, individual leadership, workplace, expertise, education, training, follower, vision, leadership development, manager, Fred Schlegel, Steve Roesler, management, business, workforce, Cultural Offering