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Amateur Hour

In the course of this current series, we have seen that the general concept of individual leadership in organizations suffers from a debilitatingly long list of failures. It lacks system, it defies definition, it is unable to develop practitioners or to predict outcomes . . .

But never mind: perhaps it is really too dispiriting, even for critics like us, to recount them yet again.

At bottom what is most telling about them isn’t their number, but their nature. And that is the greatest failing of all: leadership is inherently unprofessional.

As Peter Drucker argued, with the rise of the world of organizations in the 20th century, management was compelled to transform itself from an ad-hoc activity conducted by persons of random ability and preparation into a profession. Its practioners can be readily identified both theoretically and practically. It is based on objectively developed function, its execution is based on widely recognized practices and disciplines, and it is grounded in accountability and responsibility.

The concept of leadership is, plainly speaking, none of those things. You can visit any number of major organizations or business schools around the world, ask them about their management philosophy, and recognize the universal character of most of what you learn. Making the same tour with questions about their leadership philosophy will only leave you scratching your head in wonderment at the random, ad-hoc nature of the responses you receive.

And it will compel you to conclude, as we do here, that there is neither a professional “field” of leadership, nor can those pretending to be practitioners of it genuinely lay claim to being professionals in any meaningful sense. In other words, the pressure to adopt the “modern” concept of individual leadership promoted over the last several decades is actually a step back in time to pre-modern amateurism; basically the anti-definition of professionalism.

Surely that’s not how you would like to see yourself, or to have others see you, is it? If not, be sure to stay with us here, as we wrap up this series next week with a discussion of where leadership really belongs.

We will then move on to a new series dedicated to penetrating through all the background noise generated by the chaotic claims about leadership to find the real signal that will help guide our professional actions in this field.

See you next week!

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