Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why So Many Leadership Models, But So Very Few Leaders?

Becoming an effective leader is a notion bandied about within the private and public sectors, regularly. Leadership pundits from John Maxwell to Jim Collins have created a cottage industry on the subject of leadership. With so much accessible information on leadership development available, is society creating more leaders?

Edward Brown, M.S., of Core Edge Police Professional Development provides questions and answers about the numerous books, training and degrees for leadership development and their impact on producing new leaders.

Q: How do you define a “Leader?”

Brown: defines a leader as “A person who rules, guides or inspires others.” In its most simplistic form, anyone who has followers might be characterized as a leader. 

Q: So, when we say we need or want more leaders. What are we really asking for?

Brown: From a historical perspective, we want epic heroes that capture our imagination.  The philosopher, Thomas Carlyle said that humans are hard-wired for hero-worshipping. If a notion of God didn’t exist, we would create one.  When we think of effective leadership, we are pulling from these traditions.

Q: So, would you say that our notion of leadership has become a fantasy?

Brown: In part, if our traditions of leaders come from politics, religion, military and business, then we will consistently judge leadership by these standards. Often the impact of leadership is viewed through a rearview mirror, and may not be seen in the same vein by the followers of their time. The late Steve Jobs arguably surpassed the achievements of Thomas Edison, by transforming at least four different industries. But, we don’t emotionally feel the legend of Jobs as we do Edison. One hundred years from now, the future generation will mythicize Steve Jobs and he will be that generation’s Thomas Edison.  

Q: So with the phalanx of pundits promoting leadership development, are we producing more leaders?

Brown: Again, it depends on your expectation of leaders. A better question might be, “Do we still need leaders as we did in the past in the same way?” James MacGregor Burns is credited for coining the “Transformational Leadership” model. He rebuffed the charismatic leadership model, because he viewed charismatic leadership as too self-absorbed and personality driven.  The aim of the Transformational Leadership Model is to empower people to become self-governing and self-reliant. As such, have we produced a society of self-reliant, self-governing individuals where leadership becomes less necessary?

Q: You noted earlier that Thomas Carlyle said humans are “hero-worshippers.” Are we trying to have it both ways by placing the responsibility of self-reliance on the backs of leaders?

Brown: It won’t be the first time we passed the buck of self-empowerment to someone else. But, anyone can lead. If more people merely took responsibility for their families and communities, demonstrated fair and equitable work habits, and studied human nature, leaders would be plentiful. We don’t need any more leadership models. We merely need to implement what is already available.

Q: What will it take for individuals to become more self-directed for assuming more responsibilities?

Brown: Good question. Self-reliance and self-governance seem to take place most when individuals don’t have safety nets or unrealistic expectations from others. As long as there are people, either through ego or philanthropy, willing to assume the burden of others, people will continuously look for leaders. More books will be sold. More leadership development degrees conferred. And more people looking for the next Alexander the Great. 

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