We are off to a fantastic start. We read M. Galdwell “The 10,000 hour Rule” and “Rice Paddies and Math Tests” to warm up on questions about leadership and experience, leadership traits, characteristics and such. The students liked the articles, but I was glad they raised more questions than answers. We have been reading James MacGregor Burns, Leadership; Joseph C. Rost, Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, and Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership. As you may know Burns is not big on the trait/natural born leader idea. Instead he says leadership and followership are interconnected – reciprocal influences etc., but he does say that leadership is a function of a complex process biological, social, cognitive etc. and is influenced by the structures of opportunity in a person’s life and can emerge at various stages. But he is trying to create a general theory of leadership – transactional and transformational and all of that stuff.
The students seemed to like Howard Gardner and Emma Laskin’s article ” Lessons from the Past, Implications for the Future” quite a bit. Of course they (G&L) believe in an ideal type leader and say “a leader must have a central story or message” which taps into peoples’ basic searching for guidance particularly as it relates to identity. But the story must be adaptable and flexible along with a steadfast concentration on the same core message. And furthermore the audience must be ready.
They discuss the importance of having “an uncluttered mind” – a perspective not distracted by the transitory events of the day removing any obstacle that blocks keeping focused on the Vision!!!! I say ok right. Come spend a day with me when I was CEO.
I liked two of their notion in particular: 1) strong leadership and accomplishment produces greater strain on a leader’s milieu…. Strong accomplishment breeds strong reactions and by in large only extremely successful accomplished leaders who die young do not live to see what they have done challenged and only those ordinary leaders who are really just managers in disguise can expect to appear successful and remain beloved by everyone, but at the cost of doing nothing really lasting or significant and 2) We all face our limitations, frailty and failures. Aiming high carries burdens failure of course, but also placing excessive demands on others for change and constant action. These and other things can make a leader like a tragic hero who contributes to his own downfall. But in almost all cases the failure of a leader is not within her control. Opponents rise, history shifts, other narratives take hold, popularity and authority become unpredictable and private and public actions of a leader may be in different lights at different times. Leadership is never guaranteed. Leaders succeed, fail, return, and recover often many times over the course of a career!