Leadership Myopia

Jan 28

Humans are fascinated with strength, beauty, intelligence and many other human characteristics. American fascination with these human characteristics is seen in our literature, comic books, movies and in the stories told about men and women who have risen from rags to riches; from weakness to power.

In The Atlantic, Tara Burton asks why American colleges are so obsessed with Leadership. This not only highlights that there are followers, but also that there are other possible roles, such as a “lone wolf” or “team player”. In the right context, these non-leadership roles can bring as much value (and sometimes more) to organizations.

Another point the article makes is that often, when we discuss leadership, the real context is management. Rather than producing real change and movement, the focus is one of managing and structuring to achieve maximum profit. As one surveys history to identify great leaders, some of the most compelling and effective leaders obtained very little in the way of riches or power. Those that did obtain power did so after many years of toil.

Is there value in pursuing a universal model of leadership? Could it be that the ocean of literature devoted to finding the secret to producing outstanding leaders is really distracting American academia from opportunities to more richly educate and prepare tomorrow’s workforce? For those students who don’t naturally lean toward leadership, the myopic American focus on leadership in university studies may be cheating them of much more rewarding career training and opportunities.

It’s tempting to take the article one step further and notice that leaders are rarely noted for how well they do what they’re told. The idea of teaching leaders to be leaders and sending them into the world to lead seems at odds with the idea of leadership. Many who become leaders will do so regardless of their educational background.

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