DeM Banter: WARNING! Here in lies the tension between the academic and the practitioner. I have been pondering this one for several days… so like Professor Fleming’s article or not…it should make you think. My fear, most folks believe exactly what he is selling… leadership just is…you might be one, you might not…but who cares, just be good at what you do. He mentions doctors are not leaders, they are just doctors…really? I know several that are stellar leaders, we train those “leaders” here at OTS… In the end… not sure it is a good idea to take leadership advice from an English professor…but I encourage anyone to read the article…agree or disagree…it should make you think–and he does have some good points.
washingtonpost.com / May 23rd 2013 / View Original
“Leadership” is the snake oil of our day. Everybody is peddling it, it’s offered as a panacea for anything that ails us, and there’s no proof it has any benefit at all—or for that matter, even exists.
Our current infatuation with leadership, particularly in the military, is behind the unsettling rise in malfeasance in recent years, whose headline-grabbers include the Defense Department’s current sexual assault scandals, David Petraeus’s resignation, and two directors in a row with U.S. Africa Command being removed for impropriety. Why so much now? They’re high on the idea that they’re leaders, and it’s our military’s fault. Rather than prioritizing decisions based on justifiable evidence, we’ve been training our high-potential officers to believe their internal compass is king.
Our societal infatuation with leadership starts early. The sign down the dirt road to my children’s day camp reads: “Slow Down! Future Leaders at Play!” Really? All the kids who go to this day camp are going to be leaders? It’s true that if you can afford to send your kids here or care enough to do so, they’ll likely have the advantages of going to good schools and drifting into cushy jobs. But will they all be leaders? Only if leadership means making more money than others do.
This is mirrored in the lip-smacking behavior of our top military officers, who are laden with (as The Washington Post put it) “the imperial trappings that come with a senior general’s lifestyle” and “an array of perquisites befitting a billionaire,” all at taxpayer expense. Being treated like a king tends to make people believe they are kings—and we’re inculcating that mindset in officers from the very beginning of their military schooling.
Our society’s obsession with leadership not only fuels an industry of consultants and management schools offering leadership education, it insinuates itself into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and my home institution, the U.S. Naval Academy, where I have been a professor for 26 years. Here, the word “leadership” is heard multiple times daily. The students have to take a mandatory leadership course (“It’s a joke,” students tell me), and our Web site even boasts the slogan “Leaders to Serve the Nation,” which seems to suggest that all our graduates are leaders, rather than pilots or ship-drivers.
What it doesn’t say is anything about bad leaders. Roughly a third of Navy commanding officers removed for malfeasance in 2012 were Naval Academy graduates, when these graduates make up only 20 percent of the officer corps.
Be wary of any institution that claims it can teach you to be a leader. There’s usually an inverse relationship between good marketing about leadership and good instruction. Has your doctor recently claimed that she is a leader? Not likely. She just focuses on being a good doctor. If you get a PhD in theoretical physics from MIT, will you hang out your shingle as a leader or a physicist? And Juilliard doesn’t claim it makes great leaders, just great violinists.