The field of leadership has been subject to only one dominant paradigm for well over a century. If you are not convinced of this, try an experiment: Write down or think about your personal definition of “leadership.”
We have conducted this experiment as part of our LEAD Program for over 25 years. Interestingly, no one defines leadership. The definitions are always descriptions of leader skills and abilities, or statements about the qualities and characteristics of a leader. We can confidently predict that your personal definition of leadership was also a description of a leader. A paradigm that puts the leader at the center of leadership is equivalent to putting the earth at the center of the universe.
Today most managers are under the influence of the industrial paradigm of leadership and consequently find themselves spending most of their time doing what they least understand. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that this industrial leader-centric conceptualization or mental model of leadership is universal. Sadly, the leader-centric perspective has restricted the scope of leadership research and limited the effectiveness of leader development.
It is important to note that the field of leadership has been severely criticized for well over half a century primarily because it consistently fails to clarify the nature of leadership and distinguish between leadership and the leader. Most recently, the commercial enterprise of leadership training has also come under intense scrutiny with numerous studies confirming the ineffectiveness of conventional leadership training programs.
It is estimated that leadership is a $50 billion annual global industry. In the US, leadership training expenditures are approximately $15 billion annually and have increased an average of 12 percent annually over the past few years. After a quarter century of escalating expenditures and increasing attendance in leadership courses, seminars, workshops and in-house programs, there is little evidence that leadership training has had any appreciable effect.
This is partly due to the fact that most leadership training offers prescriptions based on platitudes instead of principles. Platitudes naturally resonate with people because they either confirm what they already know or serve to simplify theories and concepts for their consumption. Clearly, leadership is now a major commercial enterprise that appears to have little interest in understanding the true nature of the dynamic social phenomenon we call leadership or differentiating between management and leadership.
Traditional leadership is failing because of its obsession with the “leader” and its focus on leader personality, style and competencies. Ever increasing numbers of executives, managers, and supervisors are becoming critical of conventional leadership training courses. They are dissatisfied and disillusioned with “off-the-shelf” and “out-of-the-box” leadership programs that simply teach the behavioral attributes of one or more of today’s countless leadership models.
There is an increasing awareness within the leadership industry that research has stagnated, and leadership training is failing to develop leaders for the 21st century. But in a “circle the wagons” response, the academic establishment and commercial complex focus on reinventing the leader instead of reconceptualizing leadership. Fortunately, the leadership construct is being redefined, reconceptualized and revolutionized although most people are not aware of it. As the leadership paradigm is changing, so too must leadership education and development.
Contemporary (postindustrial) leadership development gets below the surface level of a leader’s personality, style and behavior it uniquely focuses on the leader’s deep underlying assumptions, beliefs and motives the thoughts that determine and drive their behaviors. It also exposes and debunks long held and popular management myths about people, human nature, change and organizational culture.
Empirical research conclusively demonstrates that to change the way we lead, we must first change the way we think about leading and supplant management myths with profound knowledge based on theory. During this paradigm shift, ideas of leadership and leader development must change in tandem. When thinking about how to develop leaders, it matters what leadership is assumed to be. Models of leadership in which one person is identified as the leader and others are characterized as followers are no longer adequate and appropriate in this new economic era.
At the Institute for Postindustrial Leadership, we challenge the central orthodoxy in the field of conventional leadership development and help organizations transform their cultures one leader at a time. In our leader education and development program, participants are exposed to contemporary concepts, discover how to internalize principles at the motive level, and are compelled to challenge and change the assumptions that determine their beliefs and influence their behaviors.
The Institute of Post Industrial Leadership is committed to overcoming the gravitational pull of the leader-centric paradigm and contributing to the development of a more sophisticated understanding of leadership as a collaborative social phenomenon. The Institute is also committed to ensuring that investments made in leader development deliver the desired returns in terms of behavior change, employee engagement, cultural transformation and performance improvement.
This is the second 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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or visit the Institute’s website.