Friday, August 17, 2012

Leadership training and research

Leadership is a big deal in management. Open any issue of the Harvard Business Review and you are bound to find something on the subject- the latest issue has three articles. Books on leadership are truly legion. Training programmes in leadership are amongst those widely subscribed to. I sometimes regret I didn't get into this business. It seems easy to do- you can get away with almost anything as long as you present it plausibly- and it is enormously lucrative.

Leadership material falls into several categories: great men ('Leadership lessons from Gandhi'), books ('Leadership lessons from the Gita'), business ('Leadership in the services industry'), etc. Then, you have things that are fairly eclectic: eg. Climb the leadership ladder in eight easy steps.

Interesting, then, that we should have a book now by somebody who has spent a lifetime in training and research in leadership that suggests that much of the stuff is bunkum. Barbara Kellerman of the Kennedy School of Government has done just that with her recent book, The End of Leadership.

Her basic thesis is hard to dispute. The days when people at the top dictated things and people down below just followed are over, whether in politics or in the corporate world. People no longer look up to leaders as they used to and followership is as important as leadership. (The latter includes things like standing up and saying 'no' to your boss). Leadership training has, however, failed to make the necessary adaptation.

I would go further. It is not just leadership training that needs to change. The basic business model is broken and it needs to be replaced with something more egalitarian and decentralised. But those in the business of teaching leadership won't say so because the ones at the top will not pay them for saying such things.

More in my ET column, Leadership industry in crisis.


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"Everyone" is a Leader, although each in different perspectives.

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