The Illusion of Leadership


Leadership is an interesting thing.  It pervades our daily lives at every turn.  Thousands of books have been written about it.  It has been dissected and examined in every which way, such that we now have categories of types of leadership—from servant to autocratic, etc.  Some leadership experts say it can be taught.  Others say it is a natural or innate talent.  Everyday each of us is affected by its influence.  It could be on a personal level in how we conduct and lead our own lives.  On a local level by our work place supervisors and corporation management.  Or, on a societal level through elected officials.  Regardless of the hierarchy, leadership is a powerful force that affects all of us in very intimate ways. 

Given conversations with others; what I have experienced through the years; and what I see and hear on the news every day, I believe we all suffer from a lack of leadership.  Many of us are in leadership roles and touted as leaders, but few are actually effective at truly leading those they are responsible for.  To me, this is why there are more losing athletic teams or failing businesses than there are successes.  This is why there are more dissatisfied employees than there are happy.  This is an injustice, because for something so studied, debated, and expounded upon, one would think leadership would not be so elusive. 

A day doesn’t go by when I don’t ask myself why this is the case.  Why do those in positions of leadership fail to practice what is demanded of them?  Maybe Laurence J. Peter was onto something in 1969 when he developed what is known today as the Peter Principle.  This principle of management theory essentially suggests that achievers will eventually be promoted to a level that is overwhelming for their existing skill set.  They are promoted based upon their current achievements, rather than the abilities needed for the new role.  Ascending the corporate, professional or political ladder requires an increased ability to lead.  Along with that comes prestige and increased financial opportunities.  Many driven people are motivated by these two factors and thus, seek to ascend ever higher positions of authority and perceived responsibility.  The Peter Principle states that eventually such individuals will reach a level of incompetence with all work actually being accomplished by those who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.  Maybe those responsible for leading us have reached their individual level of ineffectiveness, causing such a leadership void.  Just because one is an outstanding engineer or savvy business person doesn’t mean they can inspire others to give their best and achieve greatness.

Regardless of such theories, there is little doubt that the world has an epidemic of ineffective people in positions where the ability to lead others is central to the position.  Unfortunately, until we promote or vote for people based upon their ability to be selfless and bring people together to accomplish great things rather than on their ability to broker business deals or design the next life-changing widget, the leadership illusion will continue to exist and wreak havoc on all of our lives.   

Brett Davis