We have been reviewing the argument against individual leadership in modern organizations. We have discussed the problems with
- the concept being associated with the person rather than the work at hand or the organization,
- the stoutly advanced but wholly unproven contention that the extraordinary qualities of individual leadership touted by the modern leadership movement (MLM) can be taught,
- the disturbing disjunct between the aims of personal leadership and those of organizations – and, certainly, between the presence in an organization of MLM-style leadership and organizational success,
- the numerous fallacies erroneously presented as proof of the notion’s veracity,
- the inability to predict either its presence or its potential in individuals or organizations, and
- the oddly persuasive insistence that grown managers can and should alter their very personalities in ways that have not been shown to even be possible, and which may rather more likely be harmful to attempt.
We come, now, then, to an element in this long anti-leadership argument that stands out as among the most noxious: the MLM-style leadership development programs essentially without exception – and, indeed, basically inescapably – encourage potential acolytes to develop these traits and abilities strictly in order to enhance an exclusively personal power and influence.
Many voices from the MLM movement will, of course, object to this. They are calling people, they will say, to service. They claim that their systems enhance teamwork and collective productivity. Indeed, many will ostentatiously proclaim, chief among the characteristics they instill is the primacy of individual humility – of the attainment of which they, of course, are inordinately proud.
But there is really no way out. These claims are mere fig leafs, and the naked greed and ambition inherent in the baldly self-aggrandizing promises of almost mystical personal influence and power escape no one’s attention – certainly not that of those who crudely insinuate (or, more likely, overtly assert) these promises, nor – admit it! – of those of us hungrily seeking to benefit from their fulfillment in ourselves.
None of these systems examine the needs of the organization, explore its goals and founding or re-established vision, or teach “leaders” how to extract this information and help it become expressed in the organization’s activities. Far from it. According to the MLM, this sort of insight and inspiration has only one source: that of the leader they help to create. It is hard to avoid wondering what exists for the purpose of what: the “leader” to serve the organization, or the organization to serve simply as a vehicle for the display of the “leader’s” superlative qualities.
So, which is it? Who do you work for? Whose interests do you intend to serve? If we happen to see any of the most popular leadership books on your desk, what do you suppose we should think of your answers to those questions?
You will be infinitely better at what you do – (even, probably, more likely to actually be viewed as a genuine “leader”) if your professional reading shelves have more books on management that were written 40 years ago by Peter Drucker or 80 years ago by Mary Parker Follett than the latest wildly best selling book on leadership by professor this or internationally acclaimed expert that.
Get off your high horse. Get to work. Your value, your sense of reward – and your reputation – will flow from that.
The argument against leadership, however, is not over. We will continue next with a discussion of how the MLM distracts us from the search for what really works at all levels of management.
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