Monday, December 13, 2010

Is Leadership dead?

In 1943 Nietzsche rocked the Christian and theological establishments with his assertion that "God is dead". A few years later (1952) JB Phillips continued this "rocking" in his book "Your God is Too Small". Once the shock and horror from the establishment had abated, these works (and others like the writings of Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Paul Tillich etc) lead to many questioning their faith and, for some it lead to a new and deeper understanding of what they believe and why. [More recently, of course, the shock was continued by people such as John Robinson and John Spong]

Is “leadership” dead? Just as Nietzsche, Barth, Bultmann, Bonheoffer, Tillich, Robinson, Spong and others forced the Christian and theological establishments to re-examine their beliefs and concepts, has the time come when we need to seriously reconsider our leadship beliefs and concepts?

No matter what any person’s personal views relating to Julian Assange, the current furore around Wikileaks provides a focus for this question.

When I talk with people at any level of virtually any organisation I invariably hear that the problem they face is “leadership”. (A few years ago it was “communication”.) When I ask for clarification I get a shopping list of issues and concerns such that it would wear out a series of magic wands if they were all to be addressed.

It seems to me that "leadership" now seems to be a catch-all term (a bit like "communication"). That being the case, has the time now come when we should be considering whether the term "leadership" has lost its impact and whether we need to radically rethink the whole concept by moving out of all the traditional concepts like "servant leadership", "situational leadership", “contingency leadership”, “leadership habits” etc that are based on attitudes and behaviours?

In “Third Generation Leadership: how to develop commitment and accountability in the 21st century” I suggest that the 1980’s brought about a seismic shift in the way leadership operates. I say in that book: “Gen Y finds rigid reporting structures and narrow sources of information to be a foreign concept. Their whole life has been lived in a world of personal computers, mobile phones, the internet, social networking, and the like. They have learned that by using the internet and the search engine of their choice they can find out almost anything about anyone at any time – and some of what they find out will even be accurate! Gen Y has an expectation that information will be readily available and that they will be involved in determining the accuracy and utility of such information.”

I wrote that long before Wikileaks was forefront of international consciousness but recent events demonstrate how accurate I was. “Leadership” as it largely exists today pertains to power and authority. In such an approach the ownership and control of information and knowledge is a very effective power base that can be used for good or evil but, almost always, to further the ambitions and desires of the leadership elite. This is as true in families as it is in organisations and nations. Most of the reaction against Julian Assange and Wikileaks relates not so much to what is being released but the very fact of this power base now being eroded.

If this forces us to reconsider the whole concept of “leadership” perhaps its not totally a bad thing.

I'd love to know what you think. Please make your comments below.

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