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The Death of Leadership

Jul 18, 2008
Leadership is dead. Or, if not dead, it's in a coma. Executives all over the world are so overwhelmed with the day-to-day nitty-gritty of their jobs and hampered by the lack of support from the board that they don't have the time or energy to be good leaders.

Instead, executives at every level are constantly fire-fighting and are lurching from crisis to crisis.

These are the findings of a survey of executives conducted by myself and my colleague, bestselling business author Jacqueline Moore. The executives we've been talking to over the past 12 months want to lead well, they want to be inspirational leaders, but they just can't do it. They face immense personal pressures, more than at any other time in business history.

As one executive said, their most pressing concern was how to make the time to be a good leader. 'How do I minimize time in plate-spinning without it being my full-time job?'

Another asked: 'How do you create the space to stop the daily fire-fight to "do leadership"?'

The research conducted over the past 12 months reveals that today's leaders are very well meaning, but performance, productivity and profitability are doomed because managers are paralyzed with frustration. It's a vicious cycle: frustration leads to inaction, which adds to how overwhelmed they feel, which increases their frustration.

In fact, today's managers are more paralyzed with frustration than they have ever been. Some believe now that they're not getting the right kind of support from their boards. Others are more frustrated than ever with their teams. Some very honest managers are frustrated most of all with themselves: that they can't get their people moving.

But there's hope for the future. Many executives are willing to fight the inertia - they just need to know how to do it. As one said: 'I'm willing to fight the supertanker - it may take many kilometres to make the rudder turn.' But they wanted to know how to win support and credibility for the fight.

Another echoed this idea by asking: 'How do I maintain the right balance between being dissatisfied with the status quo and being perceived as too critical or negative?'

These questions, and the practical solutions to them, help to make a hard business case for the so-called 'soft' people skills. And not everyone has these skills. Despite most managers today being more highly educated than managers in the past, there are still major gaps in their knowledge.

While managers may know WHAT to do to lead their people - enthuse their staff, be more emotionally intelligent and build trust, for example - many managers still don't know HOW to lead as well as they could.

Managers need to seek out tangible, step-by-step help in building support and overcoming resistance inside companies. Many business schools and consultancies focus on stories about inspirational leaders, such as Gandhi and Mother Teresa. This may boost executives' aspirations to lead well, but it doesn't help them with their day-to-day challenges.

Human resource directors and training providers should also be warned. They need to put on an array of leadership development programs and balance the inspirational with the practical. Without this balance, firms risk crushing the life out of productivity and performance.

In conclusion, leadership really will die, unless executives show the courage to overcome their frustration and take effective leadership action. Executives must rise to the challenge and accept the responsibility to lead. They can be good leaders, even in these difficult times. But this in turn depends on the availability of serious professional training that deals with the critical interpersonal skills of overcoming resistance and building support.
About the Author
If you want the leadership success you deserve, get the leadership training you deserve. Download more free articles and leadership training videos from Steven Sonsino, an international business school professor and author of the Amazon bestseller "The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders"
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