Thursday, April 18, 2013

Part 1: The 50 Billion Dollar Leadership Development Questions

The leadership development industry is composed of the vendors selling their know-how and programs to organizations and individuals interested in developing leadership expertise. Is the leadership development industry in danger of death?

In The End of Leadership, Dr. Barbara Kellerman warns that if the industry continues in its current state, then it just may be. The book is a must read for leadership development scholars and practitioners. One major benefit of the book is the crisp and thorough review of the history of leadership. The second major benefit is the resulting dialogue on this topic. It is catching on fire. Hopefully, the result will be the development of a pathway to constructive change since one was not offered in the book.

In the book, Kellerman proposes the following:

  • the leadership development industry has presented insufficient evidence to prove their success in preparing leaders despite companies' $50 billion annual investment.  Proof includes the:
    • current political gridlock
    • crisis in leadership highlighted by the 2008 economic breakdown
    • continued and significant increase in the loss of credibility and trust in the competence and ethics of C-suite members, particularly in CEOs and political leaders
  • teaching people how to follow is missing from the curriculum despite the seemingly sea change rise in followers' open challenges to leadership power, authority, and influence across the world.
  • organizations' environments/contexts (contextual intelligence) are given less than desirable attention and are presented shortsightedly.
  • the rapid acceleration in technology and use of social media, environmental complexity, and followership challenges end in the need to take a different viewpoint on the importance of leadership and on how to prepare those who lead. 
  • the leader role has diminished in its importance.
Wait! Don’t shed another tear...just yet...into whatever you may be drinking at the moment! Let’s all hope Kellerman has confined her prediction to the end of the leadership development industry in its current state and not the end of leadership per se. After all, wouldn’t you agree the word “leader” suggests there are followers? Daringly, we can assert the majority of us are following someone either socially and/or professionally albeit passively or actively or somewhere in between. So, someone somewhere for some reason is being viewed as a leader. Social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, according to Kellerman, has assisted followers in the erosion of the power, authority, and influence of leadership and in so doing the role of the leader has diminished. This is a sobering fact. Yet, I suggest the same media has also exponentially empowered leader and follower connections within and outside organizations’ traditional structures and has created a foundation upon which the leader/follower relationship is likely to be maintained, albeit in a very different form than exists today. As a result, rather than being reduced to the sands of time, I suggest that leadership will be forced to change from its current state and live on and up to its importance.

How should one respond to this state of affairs? Answers aren’t new! They have been offered by leadership theorists for years. Suggestions include time has passed for command and control leadership styles and time has come for wider distribution and free flow of information to all employees. There are many who have suggested change. Let’s focus on two theorists in addition to Kellerman for today.

Predicting chaos and complex times ahead, over fourteen years ago, Margaret Wheatley wrote information has to connect internally as it is distributed, interpreted, and acted upon by all members of the organization, not just its leaders. So, if information is still being hoarded in organizations by leaders given the current chaotic and complex environment, then what is the rationale for this behavior? Over fifteen years ago, along with Kellerman, Gill Robinson Hickman wrote the role of leaders and followers was changing. Hickman suggested that leaders and followers in organizations can and should exchange roles as appropriate. Specifically, he contended the philosophical shift in the functioning of leadership, while not negating authority, should be a "fluid" role in which the employee and leader move from employee to leader and leader to employee “based upon capabilities, expertise, motivation, ideas, and circumstances, not solely on position or authority”.  To what degree is this exchange being played out in organizations today? If not, then why not?

In Part II of this series, I will conclude with the $50 billion dollar leadership development questions. Until then, ask and seek answers to the right questions in the right way and be the change you want to see. Let the conversation begin!

Phyllis L. Wright, Ph.D.

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Hickman, G. R. (Ed.). (1998). Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era.

       Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Kellerman, B. (2012). The end of leadership. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Wheatley, M. (1999). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world. San

       Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
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