For years I’ve written about, talked about, bad leadership. And for years I’ve wondered why among putative leadership experts I’ve been among the few who chose to do so.
Perhaps it’s because for most of the half century life of the leadership industry the American experience of bad leadership was something of an abstraction. This is not to say that Americans have had no bad leaders. Quite the contrary, we did. But at least at the national level – specifically the presidential level – our leadership was, broadly speaking, good enough. The single exception to this general rule was Richard Nixon, who was dispatched with relative dispatch.
Since the presidency of Donald Trump this has no longer been the case. He has been so manifestly unfit, in every way, to hold the nation’s highest office that to discuss him per se is no longer of any interest. But what is of interest, of practical consequence, is the nation’s paralysis given a chief executive who is neither suitable nor capable. We lack an adequate response at the individual level and at the institutional one. We are stuck. Americans are stuck with the worst of all possible leaders – while being unable and/or unwilling to do anything about it. Had Trump been Chief Executive Officer of a company instead of a country, his wretchedly ineffective and woefully unethical leadership would never have been tolerated. Not for a week or a month not to speak of a year. But here we are, America, stuck.
The leadership industry prides itself on having experts of various kinds – scholars and instructors, practitioners, consultants, and coaches, you name it. Moreover, the leadership industry has yielded countless, numberless, teaching materials – programs and trainings; courses and workshops, books and articles. What it has not provided is even the most modest information or slightest instruction on what to do when saddled with a leader who is bad. Is it that we, we putative leadership experts, are unable to respond, or is it that we are unwilling? In the event of the former, it is our professional responsibility to address what we have ignored. In the event of the latter, it is our moral responsibility to hang up our spurs.