Whatever Happened To Leadership?

Whatever happened to leadership?Despite the millions of words that have been written or spoken on the subject; despite the DVD’s, despite the training courses, I have yet to see any convincing evidence that the quality of organisational leadership has risen.  On the contrary, my anecdotal evidence suggests that it has in fact declined, the reason being that the current organisational environment is not conducive to the practice of leadership.  Let me explain.

Leadership is a selfless exercise and the corporate world has become less selfless.  Too many managers seem preoccupied with their own aggrandisement to devote much time to the interests and welfare of those who respond to them.  Yet there is ample empirical evidence to suggest that, in the words of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner who wrote “The Leadership Challenge” that “successful leaders, by using their own power in the service of others rather than in the service of self, transform their constituents into leaders themselves – and end up with extraordinary results”.

Given that we all know what to do – and are very conscious of leadership shortcomings in others – why don’t many more managers practice the attributes of leadership?  There are three reasons, each of which reflects the realities of modern corporate life.

  1. Short-term mindset

    Most organisations operate for the short-term – they want results NOW.  They pay too little heed to the human and long-term cost of their achievement.  As a consequence, their best people leave in search of an environment that values them and their contribution.

  2. Short-term tenure

    People’s tenures in the same managerial positions or the same organisations are so much shorter these days.  Most are never around to reap what they sow.  Based on the superficial evidence of short-term results, they are either promoted or leave for another organisation.  Their promotion is self-confirmation that their management style is the right one and so they continue to be promoted until their past eventually catches up with them.

  3. Time poor

    Lastly, people lack time, and leadership – good leadership – takes up time.  Faced with the choice between finishing a report or explaining to a staff member the rationale behind a change in corporate strategy, there are too few who would opt for the latter.  Submitting the report on time and there’s the prospect of a few more brownie points being chalked up against your name.  In contrast, spending time keeping your staff “in on things”, listening to their views, involving them in decision-making – this is an investment with no specific pay-back period.  It does not attract the attention of the boss and wins no kudos in the short-term.

Is your experience similar to mine? Post your comments below on your thoughts on leadership.


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