Monday, February 17, 2014

I have heard and read a lot, these days, about "bad" leadership. The people doing the writing or talking have usually either commented on the moral failures or the tyrannical behaviors of people known to them, who have held positions of authority, within organizations or societies. However, I contend that neither of these necessarily equate to or even contribute to bad leadership. If leadership means something like: to go before and show the way (Greenleaf, 1977); and it substantially consists of the application of values and skills necessary to accomplish those ends; then moral failures associated with anything other than location (ahead of followers) and destination (showing the way) might indicate that those leaders lack what it takes to live as "good" people, but not necessarily that they lack what it takes to serve as good leaders. Similarly, tyrants and dictators might lord over people to provide direction. However, providing direction only serves as a part of the definition of leadership. For example, managers too, provide direction. Yet, for several decades, scholars have worked hard to show clear differences between leadership and management (Yukl, 2001). Just as the skill sets differ between those that support management and those that support leadership; so do the skill sets and values differ between those that support lordship and those that support leadership. Therefore, referring to those who employ tyranny as "bad leaders," presents similarly to biting into a rotten apple and referring to it as a bad orange. Leadership has a unique skill and value set or maybe several sets, depending on contexts; but neither moral failure nor tyrannical behavior necessarily indicate that given people have (or have not) served as good leaders.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Pualist Press.

Yukl, G. (2001). Leadership in organizations (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Printice-Hall.

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