As the modern leadership movement’s (MLM) many and various advocates compete for attention, we inevitably find ourselves being bombarded with simplistic insights, each one, its “discoverer” will argue, the very cornerstone of a brave new world that can be built only on its foundation.
As it happens, if you can dismiss the ludicrous promises made for many of these, what is left may still be useful to peruse, even thought-provoking and helpful.
Unfortunately, though, the intensity of our angst over how we each individually relate to the pseudo-vital subject of leadership can make it difficult to distinguish between the product and its packaging.
This is particularly so in the MLM – with its devastatingly misplaced focus on the uniquely special attributes of the individual. Leadership is what you are, they pontificate. What you are – if you are the right things – is leadership, they add with trivializing profundity.
An exceptionally unnerving quality can become embroiled in this unstable mixture when the advocates of a particular insight-based approach come to uncritically accept their own hype. They can then become dogmatic about it, almost fanatical. Even not-so-subtly intimidating.
A manager recently wrote me about just such a leadership sect, if you will. The group is a well-known leadership consultancy of international reach, and the beneficiary of explosive growth built on the back of a run-away best-selling book by the founder. This book presented the well-worn idea – but with spectacularly well-tuned spin in the telling – that there is an inseparable link between success and wisdom in one’s person and private life, and one’s business position and career.
This group had been hired by my correspondent’s organization to present its leadership training program to the outfit’s managers. It seems, though, that some disquiet was caused by the presenters’ almost glassy-eyed praise of the founding principles of the program philosophy. Evidently, it was even described to the attendees as something that would – indeed, that must – have a “spiritual” impact on them.
The last straw for my correspondent was when there appeared to develop real, personal pressure on the attendees to demonstrate their willingness to drink the Kool-Aid. It seems as though an inordinate amount of time was spent ensuring that each attendee had genuinely internalized – rather than merely stipulated to for the sake of the argument – the philosophical underpinnings of the program. Those that resisted drew unsettlingly focused attention, and it seemed as though the program would not progress until they capitulated.
At this point, the alarm bells sounding in this manager’s head succeeded in drowning out the liturgical droning of the acolytes. He left the multi-day workshop, which had been a requirement, and explained to his seniors why.
When you hear alarm bells yourself during any sort of presentation – especially a workshop like this one – always heed them. Try to determine what they might mean. And never let yourself be intimidated by those who want to rush you along into group-thinking lock-step with their positions without allowing you time for calm, clear deliberation. Get out of the hot-house and evaluate the comprehensiveness and consistency of the case presented yourself. Make your own decisions, and draw your own conclusions.
Certainly, don’t turn into a mindless “follower” of a “leadership” of this ilk. If you’re alert to the phenomenon, you’ll be surprised to find how much of this kind of “training” so dangerously fits this mold.