A highly critical assessment of the state of American leadership and the “leadership industry” that helps produce it.
After 30 years in the leadership-training field, Kellerman (Public Leadership/Harvard Univ.; Leadership: Essential Selections on Power Authority, and Influence, 2010, etc.) writes, “we don’t know if learning how to lead wisely and well can be taught.” Yet the $50-billion leadership industry has exploded in recent decades and become “self-satisfied, self-perpetuating, and poorly policed,” while producing scant evidence of success. Instead, many business and government leaders “seem inept or corrupt” and either unable or unwilling to lead. In this valuable book, she details vast societal changes that have demeaned and downgraded leaders and altered the relationship between leaders and followers. The Internet and other advances in communication technology brought more information, encouraged greater self-expression and expanded connection. With information available instantly to everyone, followers (citizens, employees, stockholders) learned of their leaders’ faults and began questioning their authority. Information about priestly abuse, for example, has led to diminution in the Catholic Church’s institutional power, and news of business scandals has prompted distrust of corporate leaders. At the same time, followers are demanding more, emboldened by the spread of democracy, the rhetoric of empowerment and the practice of participation. To keep pace with a networked, interdependent and transnational world in which leaders are weaker and followers stronger, the leadership industry must overcome its myopia, analyze itself critically and catch up with a rapidly changing society.
Kellerman’s honest and astute critique makes it clear that the gurus in her own field have work to do if they want to remain relevant.