Leadership – Reform…or Revolution?

Earlier this year, Oxford University Press published my most recent book, Professionalizing Leadership.  The book makes a strong argument for the proposition that leadership programs – other than those in the military – are by and large inadequate and insufficient. That the way we profess to teach how to lead is, usually, so minor and measly as to be unserious.

In the book I contrast learning how to be a leader with learning how to be a doctor or a lawyer to point to the striking differences between them. Learning how to practice medicine and law takes years and ends with requirements that attest to professionalism. Learning how to exercise leadership usually takes just weeks or even weekends, sometimes several months, or maybe, occasionally, a year; and it ends with no requirement whatsoever. No demonstration of clear competence generally is necessary, not at any point in the process, even at the end.

Professionalizing Leadership makes a case for reform. For reimagining and reconfiguring what is. But, after watching some of the proceedings yesterday in Washington, at the hearing during which Judge Brett Kavanaugh faced down one of his accusers, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who charged that during their time in high school he sexually assaulted her, I’m left wondering if what the leadership industry needs is reform. Or if what it really needs is revolution. If  what it really needs is to be overturned in its entirety.

One thing is clear. After yesterday’s hearing, which was variously described as a “national disgrace” and one of the “most shameful chapters in the history of the United States,” trust in American institutions, and in those who lead them, will plummet still further. The question then is: Should we, we in the leadership industry, continue to fiddle while Rome burns? Or does it behoove us, intellectually, ethically, to question the very premises that underlie the practices we preach?


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