Another Dagger into the Heart – of the Leadership Industry

We know that leaders are less likely than they used to be to last long. For systemic reasons – reasons pertaining to the nature now of followers and the nature now of the contexts within which leaders and followers are located – the tenure of those at the top has been abbreviated. In 2000, for example, CEOs stayed in office an average of 10 years. By 2012 this number had shrunk to 8.1.

It’s one thing, however, for ordinary organizations to change leaders more often than they used to. It’s quite another when these organizations are precisely those that supposedly specialize in teaching leadership. Put directly, when you see an article headlined, “Short Tenure of Deans Signals a Leadership Gap,” and when you realize that the deans to whom the article refers are deans of business schools, you know something’s gone wrong.*

What an irony! Given that on the one hand teaching leadership and management is the mainstay of virtually every business school, and given that on the other hand fully one quarter of all business school deans remain in place for a measly three years or less, it’s clear there’s a disconnect. I’m the last person to argue that leaders should stay in place for too long – ten years is generally the optimum maximum. Still, to cycle in and then out of a business school deanship in five years or less is nearly never good. It’s too short a time in which to do what leaders generally are expected to do: envision change, mobilize for change, create change, and finally manage change.

There’s no shortage of explanations for why so many business school deanships amount to revolving doors – the enticements of money among them. But, before professing to teach leadership, the relevant players might want to model it by, among other things, staying in place as long as it takes to get good work done.

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*Della Bradshaw, Financial Times, April 27, 2015.

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