Leading a major organisation has never been so challenging, so transient – or, in many cases, so richly rewarded. Nor has the job ever attracted so much critical attention.
Yet, despite a small rain forest and an ocean of ink expended in the study of leadership there is still much to learn. To save you digesting an entire library of books, Des Dearlove and Steve Coomber provide a leadership miscellany for our times.
What is leadership?
Ask 100 executives and you will get 100 different answers. Leadership, as management guru Tom Peters says, is “confusing as hell” – “if we’re going to make any headway in figuring out the new rules of leadership, we might as well say it up front: There is no onesize- fits-all approach to leadership. Leadership mantra #1: It all depends”.
Warren Bennis, the doyen of leadership gurus, concurs: “There is no magic formula. No accepted theory or paradigm. No heaven sent elixir one can drink or mathematical equation to be written on a blackboard. What we do know is that leadership is, at it’s most elemental level, a tripod of factors: a leader, followers, and a goal. What we also know is that leadership is of fundamental importance for the success of any organisation, from a girl scout troop to a Fortune 500 company, from a church to a school system.”
What is clear, too, is that leading a major organisation has never been so challenging, so transient – or, in many cases, so richly rewarded. Nor has the job ever attracted so much critical attention.
Yet, despite a small rain forest and an ocean of ink expended in the study of leadership there is still much to learn. To save you digesting an entire library of books, here are some highlights. Think of it as a leadership smorgasbord, a place to pile your plate and ruminate – a leadership miscellany for our times.
The leadership odyssey
Leadership is a subject that has fascinated people for centuries. The poet Homer wrote about the heroes of Ancient Greece such as Achilles and Odysseus. Plutarch chronicled the histories of Roman Emperors like Julius Caesar. Thomas Carlyle dissected the character of Napoleon and others.
Today the leaders of corporations and other organisations have replaced kings, emperors and generals in the affections of those who study leadership. And leadership theories have become more sophisticated and more numerous.
Theory and practice are inextricably intertwined. Dry though it can be, it is difficult to gain a true insight into leadership without tracing the development of leadership theory through history.
Much of the traditional theory falls within three broad categories. Some leadership theories centre on the disposition of the leader, their personality and traits. Others focus on the behaviour of the leader, identifying the different roles they fulfil and preferring to see leadership in terms of what leaders do rather than their characteristics. A third group of theories view leadership as specific to the context. They are based on the idea that different situations require different styles of leader – think of how Rudy Giuliani reinvented his reputation in the aftermath of 9/11.
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