Archive for March, 2012

The Myth of Leadership, or, Who’s Driving This Bus?

March 20, 2012

Barbara Kellerman and Carl Jung share a unique view of leaders & followers.  Kellerman, a Harvard lecturer, and author of many books, including Followership, feels that leaders are largely at the mercy of their followers.  She proposes that a leader who does not pay attention to the types of followers in their organization is not likely to succeed in the long run.

Carl G. Jung, the noted Swiss psychiatrist, believed that hubris is the downfall of many a leader, and that the image of the mighty leader engaging the hearts and minds of doting followers is not reality.  He viewed organizations as he does individuals: as having a conscious and an unconscious, the latter having a powerful influence on behavior and outcomes.

Just as with individuals, organizational success is related to the willingness of the enterprise to acknowledge less evident, perhaps darker, forces, and strive to bring them to consciousness.

Let me add a third name to this list of opinions on leadership I respect: Adam Weinberg, past President and CEO of World Learning, an international nonprofit organization that runs exchange, education and leadership development programs in more than 75 countries.  Dr. Weinberg became President of Denison University in 2012.  I heard Mr. Weinberg speak at a luncheon in January of 2012.  His four main points:

  1. Rarely is leadership correctly defined.  Agreeing with Kellerman and Jung, Mr. Weinberg defines leadership in part by what it is not: an individual on a white horse leading the charge while yelling, “Follow me!”
  2. Everyone needs to be a leader.  At a minimum, we must lead ourselves through self-management.
  3. Institutions are rarely training individuals to be the leaders we need. For instance, leaders are rarely taught to be introspective, but how can you understand the values and needs of others if you do not deeply understand your own values and needs?
  4. Organizations are human creations, and thus the three preceding issues are creating institutions that are becoming less and less “leadable.”  The US congress – enough said.

I leave you with one of my favorite management quotes, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but probably first stated by A. A. Ledru-Rollin, a French politician of the 19th century:

“There go my people.  I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

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