Monday, May 28, 2007

The Elusive Concept we Call Leadership

“Managers are people who do things right. Leaders are people who do the right things.”
- Warren G. Bennis

Who hasn’t heard, read or even used one of Warren G. Bennis’ many infamous quotes? Professor Bennis has to be one of the most frequently quoted writers in the realm of leadership thinking; and rightly so, he more or less invented the discipline.

However, lately I’ve begun to wonder if there is any substance to the Bennis perspective or if we have bought into a truckload of sizzle. The problem is, when you get past the Zen-like nature of the Bennis system of thought, best captured by the quote above, your find that you have little more than a book of slogans that draw attention to the idea that leadership is differentiable from management or work. By his own admission, “…leadership remains an elusive concept.”

While Dr Bennis is an expert in the discourse of the seven essential attributes required to lead knowledge workers, the list is little different then a list of attributes you would find desirable for any one in your organization from the door man to CEO. The only differences seem to be the positional power held and the latitude of freedom in the assigned tasked, i.e. sizzle not substance.

There in lies the rub and the purpose of the Leadership Epidemic; the sizzle is a lie, a big lie. In terms of marketing, that’s not such a bad thing. However, the negative impact of the conventional wisdom stemming from this line of thinking has lead to a Leadership Industrial Complex, similar to the Military Industrial Complex referred to by President Eisenhower in his farewell address.

I’m still formulating my thoughts on this subject, but I am interested in hearing what you think. Is leadership real? Is it an activity that you can separate from other organizational activities like management or work? Let me know what you think.

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Take care and enjoy...



Billy said...

Very Interesting post. I look forward to reading your next thoughts on this topic.

John W. McKenna said...


I'm glad you liked the post. So, what are your thoughts, do you think leadership is real?