Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The missing perspective on leadership

I've been interested for a while on writing a book called Leadership by one of the Led. It’s a perspective that doesn't seem to be present in the massive industry that seems to surround leadership as a concept.

Leader Duck Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões on Flickr

A while ago I searched for ‘Leadership’ in the Books section of Amazon.com and got back 165,897 results.  So, it seems there is no shortage of information out there. Now admittedly, I didn't look at all 165,897 books. But in the first 20 or so pages, I noticed a couple of trends.

The first is to reveal the secrets of successful leaders. In addition to an opus on ‘Leadership’ written by former Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, there are books on ‘Dwight Eisenhower's Leadership Lessons’, ‘The Leadership of Muhammad’, ‘The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan’, and ‘The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus’.

What do Genghis Khan, Rudolph Giuliani, Dwight Eisenhower, Jesus and Muhammad all have in common? Apparently they had their own unique style of leadership that brought them success – and if you read the books, the subtle promise is that you could have the same sort of impact.

So, one trend is the idea that to be a leader, you have to copy other leaders.

The other trend is to invent a new ‘type’ of leadership, presumably at the suggestion of your publisher to differentiate yourself in the crowded marketplace of leadership books.

So within a few pages of Amazon listings you can learn about Courageous Leadership, Passive Leadership, Primal Leadership, Values-Based Leadership, Tribal Leadership, Fierce Leadership, Effective Leadership, Authentic Leadership, Adaptive Leadership, Liquid Leadership, Brand Leadership, Spiritual Leadership, Quiet Leadership, Resonant Leadership, Relational Leadership, Living Leadership, Servant Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Passionate Leadership, Strategic Leadership, and Turnaround Leadership.

With so many types out there, there must be one to suit just about anyone. The message here seems to be to find the right type for you. (Personally I like the idea of ‘Liquid Leadership’, which in my mind’s eye involves the phrase “Quick! To the bar!”)

And most of those types seem good. You wouldn't want spineless leadership when you can have courageous leadership, or hypocritical instead of authentic, or amoral leadership, or impotent leadership, or dead leadership.

But with all these viewpoints available, it’s fair to ask the question: What could possibly be missing given all that’s been written about leadership?

Well, maybe there is still something else left to say. What about the viewpoint of those who aren't already leaders or trying to become leaders?

It’s as if the ‘led’ have nothing to add to the discussion, even though being one of the led is the vantage point to best assess the success of any leader at the things which are supposed to matter in the world of leadership. It’s easy for leaders to be seen as successful, but hard to know how much of their success is genuinely down to their leadership and how much is down to just plain dumb luck. The led are the people who are most likely to know.

If you have any thoughts on this project I'd really like to hear them.


  1. I think that's a great idea Jon, certainly worth fleshing out further to see if it can sustain a longer treatment. Do it.

  2. Yes, great idea Jon. I think hearing the perspective of the led would make interesting reading, although leaders might not want to hear what's being said!