George and Amal Clooney, Followers. George and Amal Clooney, Leaders.

This is how it works. How people can be two things at the same time – followers and leaders.

Two days ago, the Clooneys followed the lead of the Florida teens who spearheaded the March for Our Lives, the anti-gun violence rally scheduled to take place on March 24 in Washington DC. Moreover, the Clooneys went all out. First, they made their position public. Second, they donated half a million dollars to the cause. Third, they announced that they personally would take part in the March. “Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country.” Finally, they signaled their role – they were followers, they were following the lead of “this incredible generation of young people.”

In this single stroke, the Clooneys became, simultaneously, leaders. They inspired other people – other very, very famous, and very, very rich, and very, very powerful people – to join their cause. Such as Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn. Such as Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw. Such as Oprah Winfrey who made clear that it was the Clooneys’ lead that inspired her to follow. “George and Amal,” she tweeted, “I couldn’t agree with you more. I am joining forces with you and will match your $500,000 donation to ‘March For Our Lives.’”

Yes, this is how it works – how being a leader and a being a follower are not mutually exclusive.  Along with the “young people” themselves, the Clooneys made certain that the March March will be an event for the ages.



And the Children Shall Lead

In the wake of the latest school shooting at a south Florida high school, some 30 students at another south Florida high school took to the streets to protest. Their message was clear, and it was targeted directly at their elders. Elders who freely offered their “thoughts and prayers,” but who have done nothing to stop the carnage. Who have failed to enact even the simplest of solutions, such as insisting that gun buyers get background checks.

The students were too few in number to make much of a difference. But they had the right idea. It’s clear that meaningful changes in the nation’s gun laws will not come from the top down. Which means that they must come from the bottom up.

This is one of those sociopolitical issues that demands a sociopolitical movement. That demands followers who refuse to settle for the status quo. That demands followers who take matters into their own hands. That demands followers who morph into leaders.


Putin Patrol Continued….

It’s possible you have to be of a certain age. Old enough to remember the Cold War and the fear that it would trigger a hot one. Old enough to remember Stalin and the fear that he would best Truman. Old enough to remember the Soviet Union and the fear that it had become the match of the United States. It’s possible, in other words, you have to be of a certain age to appreciate what Putin has accomplished.

For over a year I predicted that Russiagate would turn out a bigger political scandal than Watergate. But I did not predict that before it was all over the story would be less about Donald Trump than about Vladimir Putin.  Putin. The man of whom John McCain smartly said, “When I looked into [his] eyes I saw three letters, K, G, and B.”

For reasons we do not yet understand, Putin successfully emasculated Trump. Turned the American president from supposedly powerful leader into pusillanimous follower. But credit where credit is due. Putin pulled off a hat trick. He weakened NATO. He fractured Europe. And he upended the world’s oldest liberal democracy.


Leadership is Work. Hard Work. Very Hard Work

Germany’s largest labor union just secured for its 900,000 workers in the metals and electrical industries a 28-hour work week – down significantly from the previous 35. Workers who work 28 hours a week will be paid somewhat less than those who work 35. Nevertheless, the deal is said to reflect the new mindset among younger laborers. More than their predecessors, their interest is in securing a good work-life balance including, to take the most obvious example, time off for caregiving, whether of young children or elderly relatives.

While German unions are unusually strong and well-positioned, certainly in comparison with their now enfeebled American counterparts, abbreviated workweeks are a trend whose time has come, not only in Germany but elsewhere in the world as well. For reasons that range from demographics to economics to robotics, future workers will be on the job fewer hours than past and even present workers.

The implications of this change are enormous. They will affect countless millions in countless ways we have not yet even begun carefully to contemplate. What, for example, does the future look like for America’s two to three million truckers? Because of self-driving trucks, in a few years they will have less work, and in a few decades, they will have nearly no work.

To the general trend of less work for more people there will be some exceptions – leadership is one.  The dark and dirty secret of leadership is that the exercise of it is, typically, enormously demanding. Consuming even. Devouring of time and energy and physical and psychological resources. It’s why most leaders’ personal and professional coffers are left largely depleted of anything available to anyone else.

Let me put it this way. The likelihood that a workplace leader will emerge from among the hundreds of thousands of Germans who permanently avail themselves of the opportunity to work only 28 hours a week is slim.


Being a Mother, Being a Leader – Redux

In the last several months, I’ve written one chapter and posted several blogs on what I’ve found is a level of tension between being a mother and being a leader. My finding is grounded in nature not nurture, which renders it politically incorrect, which, in turn, marginalizes it. For it does indeed imply that women who are mothers have a hurdle that is difficult, if not impossible, entirely to surmount.

Because my finding is such a hard sell, I seek support wherever, whenever, and from whoever I can get it – most recently in a book by Melissa Schilling titled Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius Innovators Who Changed the World. Schilling writes about innovators who achieved multiple breakthroughs in science and technology – but of the eight cases she describes only one (Marie Curie) is a woman. Schilling tried to find more women who fit her criteria, but she could not.

In exploring the paucity of women innovators, Schilling writes that the “politically correct” cure for what historically has ailed us includes men and women dividing more equally responsibility for child care, and businesses and governments doing more to make affordable, quality child care widely accessible.

But she goes on to acknowledge, to admit really, that she for one did not want to relinquish her caregiving to others. “From the moment I first gave birth,” she writes, “I felt a deep, primal need to hold my children, nurture them and meet their needs.”*

Schilling hastens to add that having a strong maternal instinct does not preclude professional success. “But it might get in the way of having the almost maniacal focus that the most famous serial breakthrough innovators exhibit.”  Just as it might get in the way of having the almost maniacal focus that the most famous serial breakthrough leaders exhibit. Being a serial innovator and being a serial leader are, in other words, tasks so utterly consuming that they leave room for little if anything else. Such as, for example, parenting that is largely hands-on as opposed to largely hands-off.



Professionalizing Leadership* – Context is Critical, Says Kissinger

In Professionalizing Leadership, I write “I cannot at all understand why most leadership conversations and curricula exclude the conception of context. Why is so little attention paid to the development of contextual consciousness (being aware of the importance of context), of contextual expertise (being familiar with the components of context), and of contextual intelligence (being strategic about context to attain designated goals)?”

The question came to mind again yesterday, as I read Walter Russell Mead’s column in the Wall Street Journal, “A Word from Henry Kissinger.”  Mead was describing how when he recently agreed to become a regular contributor to the Journal, he went for advice to the dominant figure in American foreign policy in the last half century, Henry Kissinger. What, Mead wanted to know from the nonagenarian oracle, was his advice for the new columnist? “Mr. Kissinger,” Mead reports, “had only a word for me. What a column on international affairs should seek to provide, he said, is ‘context.’” In other words, what leaders need to know, the most important things that leaders need to know are contextual components such as “cultural and historical imperatives.”  Which is precisely why omitting context from learning to lead, from leadership education, is pure folly.

Mead continues: “When Mr. Kissinger advises a columnist to focus on ‘context,’  he is suggesting that there is value in helping readers to appreciate the kaleidoscopic variety and sometimes dizzying complexity of the forces at work on the international scene.” But, of course, the point is a broader one. The international scene is not the only context of “kaleidoscopic variety and sometimes dizzying complexity.” In fact, most leaders now find themselves in contexts that are complicated. So leader learner, here’s my two cents. Focus less on yourself and more on the circumstance within which you are situated!


*My latest book, Professionalizing Leadership (link below), was just released by Oxford University Press. From time to time my posts will focus on related topics.

The End of Leadership – Redux

Of the five strongest and ostensibly most stable Western democracies only one has a leader who can claim confidence in good conscience – France.

  • Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the US has become numb to its norms, insulted its institutions, toyed with the truth, relaxed on Russia, cozied up to corruption, coopted Congress, enabled the richest to get richer, and created a level of collective craziness as escalated as relentless.
  • Under the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May, Britain is experiencing a “national nervous breakdown.” “Britain,” writes Philip Stephens in the Financial Times, was “once a sturdy, stable democracy.” Now though “anger and acrimony are the new normal.” Britain is “upending the economic and foreign policies that have set its national course for half a century.”
  • Under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany is experiencing its first governmental crisis in decades. During most of her tenure as chancellor. Merkel’s leadership was skillful. But she miscalculated the political impact of admitting into Germany over a million refugees. And, arguably, she overstayed her welcome in the chancellery. Last year’s elections were inconclusive, which is why Merkel has struggled for months just form a new government.  Whatever the coalition that’s ultimately created, the constraints on her in the future will be much more formidable  than they were in the past.
  • Under the leadership of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Italy is biding its time until the March election. Italy has never been a model of political stability. However, the last few years have underscored again how brittle its democracy. Which explains the remarkable resurrection of one of the most disgraced Western politicians of modern times, Silvio Berlusconi. His political comeback is the starkest possible evidence that Italy still struggles to develop anything remotely resembling a respectable leadership cadre.
  • Under the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron, France is the only one among the leading Western democracies to boast a head of state who is expert and experienced, confident and competent, intelligent and intuitive – and who remains still unsullied by the passage of time. It is not at all clear that his followers will give Macron the running room he needs to create change. As I write, Corsican nationalists are assembling in droves to protest his imminent visit to their island. What is clear is that Macron is the only sitting leader of a leading liberal democracy to have a snowball’s chance in hell of, during this calendar year, exceeding expectations.

Monkey Business

One of the most visible indicators of the changing dynamics between leaders and followers – between the powerful and the powerless – is the animal rights movement. No coincidence that in the last four decades of the 20th century the various rights revolutions – including civil rights, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, and animal rights – were approximately contemporaneous. For example, Peter Singer’s seminal volume, Animal Liberation, was originally published in 1975, not long after the publication of Betty Friedan’s similarly seminal, The Feminine Mystique, and Martin Luther King, Jr’s. singular, “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

In the United States and Europe especially, the animal rights movement has had a profound effect on how we think, hence on what we do. Whether it’s the ubiquity by now of eggs laid by cage-free hens; the precipitous decline of circuses featuring animal acts; the proliferation of law courses on animal rights; or any one of a score of other indicators, there has been a sea change in our general conception of how human animals ought to treat other animals.

In recent weeks no story has so vividly illustrated this metamorphosis than the one about how Volkswagen (along with Daimler and BMW) became ensnared in yet another public relations fiasco – this one involving animals. As soon as it was revealed that German car makers had financed experiments in which caged monkeys were forced to inhale fumes from emissions tests, there ensued a public uproar. Whereas in the past using primates for profit would’ve gone unnoticed, now it resulted in a scandal. Questions were raised about ethics, about compliance, and about sensitivity to an historical trajectory in which the use of animals in experiments is increasingly rare – and then only in circumstances in which scientific progress, generally medical or pharmaceutical, cannot be otherwise achieved.

Most telling was the hasty retreat beaten by the car makers. To quickly quell public anger over what was widely perceived as animal abuse, executives were promptly punished, and apologies profusely provided. Volkswagen’s CEO Matthias Mueller admitted that the animal testing was “wrong” – that it was “unethical and repulsive.” It should, he went on, “never have happened.”

Thus this 21st century phenomenon. One of the world’s most powerful and influential chief executive officers expressing his regrets, in effect, to a small group of monkeys.



State of the Union State of Mind

Try as I might last night I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t focus on the matter at hand – the president of the United States delivering his first State of the Union message.

Soon after the president was done speaking and the pundits began their obligatory commentary it became clear that the president had done reasonably well. “Reasonably well” defined as having stuck to his script, which was sane in the vein of American conservatism rather than somehow off the wall.

But last night was not about the speech, the details of which 24 hours from now will be largely forgotten. Rather it was about the contexts within which the speech was delivered. Last night was not, in other words, about leadership. Rather it was about the leadership system in which leaders, followers, and contexts each get equal billing.

I could, for example, write about the apparently slavish devotion of President Donald Trump’s most faithful followers. Say the two men who sat behind him as he spoke last night, Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Both are in the president’s hip pocket, though not so long ago Ryan was Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate.

Mitt Romney’s running mate! Can it be? Is it possible that the same man who ran with Romney – Romney, who in 2012 correctly identified Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe” – now supports a president who supports Russia? Who, to take a single case in point, refuses to implement the sanctions against Russia that Congress legislated only recently with overwhelming bipartisan support?

But… I won’t go on about Trump’s followers. At least not here, not now. What I will go on about is the context within which the president’s State of the Union speech was delivered.  For what transpired last night was nothing other than an alternate reality. The obvious reality had a veneer of normality. An American president delivering a State of the Union speech in late January in the halls of Congress.

But the other reality was abnormal altogether. For this particular State of the Union speech was delivered as the country moved, seemingly inexorably, toward a constitutional crisis. A constitutional crisis that threatens, moreover, to be unlike any other that preceded it, even Watergate. Watergate entailed a threat from within; but not one from without. The current threat involves nothing short of our “number one geopolitical foe” first tampering with and then derailing American democracy – America’s political norms and its political system.

Let me put it this way. I am worried about the legitimacy of the 2018 congressional elections. No wonder I could not get into a State of the Union state of mind.


Follower Power – Ununderstood, Unappreciated, and Underestimated

As a colleague and I tirelessly point out, followers have always been important, and in the 21st century they are more important than ever before.  Ira Chaleff (author of the widely read book, The Courageous Follower) and I have found that to study leadership without studying followership is impossible. And that to be a good leader without having good followers is equally impossible. (Of course, the converse is also true. Bad leaders depend absolutely on bad followers.)

While we have made some progress demonstrating to others the significance of this finding – a few decades ago the word “followership” was not even in the lexicon – progress has been painfully slow. We have got to the point where Wikipedia cites followership as an “emerging area within leadership that helps explain outcomes.” But by and large people remain obsessed with leaders and leadership to the exclusion of followers and followership. Even the International Leadership Association, a professional organization with which Chaleff and I have been associated for years, generally treats followership as an insignificant stepchild, to be marginalized or even ignored.

Setting aside the countless ways in which follower power impacts the public sector – #MeToo being just one recent screamingly obvious example – its impact on the private and nonprofit sectors is equally great. A single case in point: subordinates rating their superiors.

When I first walked into a classroom I was expected ultimately to assess the performance of my students. The idea that they ultimately would assess me was inconceivable. Yet now websites like are not only ubiquitous, they are powerful. Student evaluations of teachers frequently play a critical role in determining teachers’ professional trajectories. is similar. The idea is for information to be openly shared with anyone and everyone, at any level, thereby enabling power to be more equally distributed. Among Glassdoor’s features is information on salaries, reviews of office environments, ratings of companies, and assessments of CEOs based on how many people approve of the company’s leadership. According to a recent article in The New Yorker, Glassdoor’s website now posts thirty-three million reviews of more than seven-hundred thousand companies in almost two hundred countries.

If this isn’t a consequential change I don’t know what is. If this isn’t evidence of follower power I don’t know what is. If this isn’t follower power at the expense of leader power I don’t know what is.