It is time to think again about leadership. In this series of blog posts, we’re going to dig a little deeper into what leadership really is, whether it matters, what leaders are like and how to develop leadership.
For all of our fascination with leadership, the TED talks, the conferences, the money spent on leadership development, there has been little gained. There are hundreds of books and tens of thousands of papers describing what leaders are like, what they do, how to assess their potential, how to develop them. Pay rates for senior leaders over recent years have shifted from a multiple of 30 times that of the lowest paid worker to 300 times: the market thinks that leaders are either far more valuable than they used to be or are a far scarcer resource. Yet in a recent definitive guide to academic research and writing about leadership, Richard Nohria and his colleague at Harvard concluded that there was little serious research and scholarship into leadership.
Meanwhile, businesses spend significantly on developing leaders, often choosing to send them to the same business schools that Nohria has pointed out don’t really believe in leadership as a proper field of study. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that leadership is seen as a money spinner rather than a serious subject. But given the expense, businesses increasingly treat leadership development as the province of the elite, an exclusive grouping, the high-potentials, those with talent.
The impact is profound. We live in a time when many institutions, from political parties to governments to banks and corporates, believe that a there is a deficit in leadership. We live in a society where many people feel let-down by their leaders, doubting whether they care about the society they are creating, a scepticism souring to cynicism. Too many senior leaders seem primarily concerned with themselves or their immediate circle rather than shaping a society and wider world of equity and meaning.
Put starkly: there are too few good leaders.
Yet the established leadership industry carries on with practices that evidently are not producing positive outcomes. How can it be that graduates from the prestigious business schools know so much about financial structuring yet remain clueless as to why someone might be prepared to follow them. How can it be that our prevailing way of talking about people, society and organisations continues to rest on market-place assumptions rather than an understanding of how people make meaning, lead fulfilling lives, create happiness? Why is it that for most people leadership development is reserved until they are at a stage in their lives when they feel fully formed and their hunger for learning is dimmed? How is it that leadership is often one of the last things that people learn in the world of work?
It does not have to be this way. Our aim at CharacterScope is to encourage everyone to think about themselves as a leader, to find and value that part of their identity that does leadership. For some this may feel an alien notion, for others a familiar one. But we believe the world will be a better place if everyone takes the time to understand and develop their leadership.
In the next blog post we’ll go a little deeper into what leadership is really about, and how established ways of approaching this important topic all too often fail, leaving people thinking that leadership is something for other people, not for them.
But let us leave you with some things to think about between now and the next post: why would someone be prepared to follow you? And why are you prepared to follow others? And finally: what would happen if we didn’t have leadership?