Rethinking Leadership – A Call to Action

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Dr. Matthew Chodkowski and Dr. Terry Schindler Dr. Matthew Chodkowski and Dr. Terry Schindler

In our first article published in July 2018, we began our journey of discovery together by establishing that leadership is something much more than what leaders do and the situations in which leaders find themselves. We further proposed that the industrial leadership theories of the 20th century provided a fundamentally flawed understanding of leadership—one that is hierarchical, managerial, male-dominated, and leader-centric. Unfortunately, these industrial leadership theories framed a mental model that still has the power to blind us to the new reality of the postindustrial paradigm of leadership of the 21st century.

We also established our core belief: The greatest difference between any two leaders is how they think!

The fundamental assumption underlying the LEAD (Leader Education and Development) Program – The Journey of Discovery and The Institute for Postindustrial Leadership is that both leaders and followers (also known as collaborators) practice leadership. This is not symbolic rhetoric. We are saying in no uncertain terms that leadership is a relationship or a social phenomenon. This changes everything in terms of leadership research and leader education and development. LEAD aims to guide leaders on their journey of self-discovery to challenge underlying assumptions, internalize profound principles, and come to know their authentic selves.

We will never come to see leadership as an influence relationship based on mutual purposes until we come to believe that both leaders and followers practice leadership. Only enlightened leaders who believe this will be able to lead the way and usher in the postindustrial paradigm and principles of the 21st century.

The Institute for Postindustrial Leadership at the University of Indianapolis is one of the newest leadership institutes in the Midwest, and the only leadership institute in the country founded to promote the understanding and practice of the postindustrial paradigm and profound principles of leadership. Our mission is the re-education of leaders to create leadership cultures and communities empowered to address their wants and needs in a 21st century society.

The 20th century was governed by the industrial understanding of leadership that focused on the person of the leader and the power of the position—essentially equating leadership with the leader. This limited the scope of leadership research and restricted the depth of leadership development. We suggest that the universal leader-centric mindset of leadership = leader is an oversimplification of epic proportions. Our objective is to replace the world view that “leadership is a person” with the wisdom that “leadership is a process.”

The lesson learned from about 100 years of leadership research is simple: you cannot understand leadership or learn to become an enlightened leader by concentrating on the traits and behaviors of great leaders. Leadership is more than who leaders are, what they do, and the situations in which they find themselves.

Leadership in the 21st century took a new twist when Joseph C. Rost, author of the book “Leadership for the Twenty-First Century,” confronted and criticized the field of leadership studies. Rost argued that traditional 20th century leadership researchers were obsessed with the peripheries of leadership: leader traits, personality, and style; and were seemingly unconcerned with the nature of leadership. Rost instead described the nature of leadership as communal relationship and a common enterprise: “Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and collaborators who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.”

There has been an increasing awareness in the leadership field that leadership studies have stagnated, and leadership development has failed to deliver desired results. Predictably, in their efforts to demonstrate the field of leadership is advancing, many researchers and authors are now defining leadership as a relationship. Their notion of relationship is usually confined to the mutual trust and respect between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow—which only serves to breathe life back into the industrial distinction between leaders and followers.

These researchers and authors zealously focus on proposing new leadership models that artfully redefine the roles of leaders and followers—instead of concentrating on re-conceptualizing the paradigm of leadership itself. The problem as we see it is that scores of leadership researchers and writers have effectively isolated the person of the leader from the person of the follower when they describe and frame leaders and followers as fundamentally different persons—instead of referring to leading and following as two different roles or modes of action performed by the same person.

We predict that destroying this critical distinction is the only chance we have for reframing leadership as a collaborative enterprise and a social phenomenon. We propose that escaping the gravitational pull of the leader-centric paradigm is a necessary and essential prerequisite for creating a tipping point in leadership and advancing the postindustrial paradigm of leadership in this new economic age of the 21st century.

Genuine efforts by theorists and futurists to isolate the leader from leadership and eliminate distinctions between leaders and followers have always been met with strong resistance. Such is the power of the leadership establishment and commercial complex. This is the reason we created the LEAD Program. LEAD is a self-directed learning experience that increases self-awareness, expands consciousness, and builds collaborative thinking. LEAD is not another model—it doesn’t lend itself to simple explanations and graphical representations.

We now know that leadership is a phenomenon of the brain. The neural roots of leadership demand that we train the brain to lead. Based on current knowledge of neuroscience, leaders can now realize a more informed perception of human nature, change and organizational culture. Creating leader motives through internalizing and integrating profound principles and developing recurring cognitive patterns that determine and drive our actions is gaining a great deal of support from recent research in neuroscience.

In the LEAD Program we understand that leadership is a social phenomenon and recognize the brain as a social organ. This implies that if being a leader is a state of mind, then leadership is the collaboration of minds. LEAD is a unique high-impact leader education and development process—the only program of its kind that helps leaders internalize, integrate, and institutionalize profound principles, debunk management myths, and transform organizational culture one leader at a time. In LEAD one does not learn about leadership. One learns to create leadership by personifying profound principles.

Our call to action is for scholars, educators, professionals, practitioners and students to join the revolution of thought and help to usher in the postindustrial paradigm of leadership. We are no longer confined to a single dominant paradigm, but a shift in consciousness is required to fuel the paradigm shift. It needs to be driven by agents of change. Thomas Kuhn stated, “…awareness is prerequisite to all changes in theory.” A paradigm does not exist until we think it. It all begins in the mind with a new way of thinking.

This is the final article in a series by Terry and Matt. They are co-founders and directors of the Institute for Postindustrial Leadership at the University of Indianapolis. Email for more information or visit the Institute’s website.

  • Perspectives

    • Ahh…Yes! Turning a Hot Mess into a Cool Breeze

      "Problems cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them," is attributed to Einstein over 75 years ago. This still holds true, particularly in challenging communications. Many people address conflict at the level it was created by rehashing and building more evidence for their ‘side’ of an argument. Repeating a position tends to intensify the separation of people.



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