That Yawning Gap Between Leadership Books And Reality


I am not here to lecture anyone.

But it is hard to understand how there can be so much good advice about leadership flying around, and yet there is such utter cluelessness about basic common sense.

Like how to treat people when you meet them. How about saying: Hello? How are you? How’s the weather out there?

Or how to delegate an assignment.

Or how to not scream at your subordinates and throw books.

I was grateful today that my friend and colleague Jeri Richardson took the time to speak about leadership. Things like this.

She came over and shared basic principles of leadership. More than that, she shared her personal experiences.

Jeri told us how to get results, how she’s done it over a period of decades:

* Modeling leadership behavior

* Focusing on underlying business needs

* Dealing with the customer as a human being

…and so much more.

It was all good stuff. But I found myself wondering as she talked, how is it and why is it that so many people I know over the years — across companies and agencies alike — have had to manage around their leaders? Rather than the leadership lighting the way?

Is this not what leaders are paid to do?

It is great that there are people as strong as Jeri is, as tolerant and patient with the foibles of the workplace.

And we all should learn to lead by example.

But at the same time, isn’t it time for some sort of leadership metric?

Instead of talking a lot about how much we value our people, or not talking a lot because we are not sure we’re perfect, or instead of focusing so much on the work that we miss the human factor altogether –

I would suggest we pay as much attention to leadership and management during work hours as we do in training seminars and reading leadership books and articles.

That leadership become in itself a technical specialty.

That emotional intelligence — the core of leadership — be recognized for what it is.

Not a “soft” meaning “unimportant” skill. But the essence of what leadership is.

That’s my hope, anyway. Because in the workplace, the only person who can tell you very clearly what has to be done is the leader. It’s the one thing that cannot be delegated down.

I only wish we could institutionalize that kind of secret sauce.

It’s an essential ingredient to any high-functioning workplace.

* As always, all opinions my own

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Profile Photo Peter Sperry

The problem is that while just about everone claims to want good leadership, almost none of us really do.

We claim to want Moses to lead us out of Egypt and through the desert to the promised land. But at every opportunity we rebel against stern commands and call upon Aaron to validate our feelings, build for us a golden calf and lead us in worship/celebration that makes us feel good while leading nowhere.

Almost all leadership teaching today (books, speakers, blog sites etc) explain why Aaron is the correct model and Moses is a failed leader who needs anger managment therapy. And many of our current government, private sector and non profit organizations reflect the current trend in leadership thinking. We are wandering aimlessly in the desert accomplishing little or nothing but our leaders shower us with praise and we feel really good about ourselves.

Profile Photo Dick Davies

Actually, in many organizations, leaders are not paid to lead the way. Heck, in many organizations the way is not known.

One culprit is that when valuable people no longer want to interact with customers, they are promoted or appoint themselves to supervisory positions. For them, this is the purpose of the organization. This is how we go from the management pyramid to the popular management pentagon, featuring more overseers than workers.

Keep beatin’ on the topic. It is valuable..

Profile Photo Henry Brown

This is why I have not spent alot of time and money reading leadership books and attending lectures where the lecturer had no clue what the needs of the audience was.

Early in my career I had a mentor who probably didn’t know too many of the “buzz-words” but was able to provide me, and probably dozens, if not hundreds, of others, the way “correct” way foward as an active member of what ever team I was on or was leading…

I was successful in sharing his guidance/knowledge, with the exception of the last few years of my career, with the teams I was on. To a certain extent I was able to made up for that by sharing my knowledge here on GovLoop.

Profile Photo Dannielle Blumenthal

These are all great comments. On Peter’s point perhaps there is a difference between “strong leadership” and “great leadership”. Strong leadership involves clear direction but can be dictatorial and/or angry. Versus with great leadership there is humility and you think it was all your idea in the first place. Some leaders are humble and interpersonal, but they don’t actually do anything (or seem to). So to Dick’s point, perhaps there are times when the metric is not to make trouble.