Leadership at a Crossroads

by: Shellie Karabell

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You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership…Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.
Indira Gandhi

We face many challenges as 2015 opens: the global economy is still faltering; ISIS remains a threat; the collapse of oil prices – while currently a boon to motorists and oil-importing countries – threatens the stability of resource-dependent developing nations, the turmoil in Syria and the Middle East.

When you consider the expanded realm of responsibility for today’s leaders –industrial or political or even military — given globalization and instant interconnectivity, you realize the challenges. Modern technology has made us more international and interdependent than ever before; has enabled actions and reactions to occur almost simultaneously. To wit: the speed with which the global economy was turned on its head during the sub-rime mortgage crisis, or the rapid spread of political upheaval during the Arab Spring. These new challenges demand new leaders and a new approach, says one management professor.

“At a time of crisis the temptation is enormous to put all our hopes in the hands of a few charismatic individuals, and leadership development can be co-opted to reinforce this illusion that a handful of well-trained great leaders is all we need. But we have to ask ourselves what kind of systemic cultural drivers led to some of the crises we’re facing today,” Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the INSEAD business school in France told me following a leadership development conference at the school.

“If you think of the word ‘charisma,’” Petriglieri says, “it comes from the Greek and refers to a gift from the gods, and when gods endow individuals with that gift, they can also take it away. And we’ve seen many such examples of that in excessive amounts in recent years, in dramatic fashion.” In other words, unchecked charisma can morph into hubris.

“I think it is extremely important for us to go the opposite way,” he continues. “Not to say that the individual doesn’t matter, but to also create forms of leadership development that empower communities to take on the challenges they face.”

Those challenges today include an onslaught of huge amounts of information; emotional intensity, the sheer complexity of some of the situations they face. It’s nearly impossible for any one individual – no matter how charismatic, no matter how smart or capable or morally grounded he or she is, to come up with a strategy or solution and then persuade others to act on it by fiat.

Leaders today find themselves in a field of “enormous collective anxiety,” says Petriglieri, which also puts strains and constraints on their performance. “They’re asked to provide greater visibility and at the same time to foster significant change; to act decisively but also inclusively; to take a stance but to take into account the values and needs of a diverse set of constituencies; to be self-confident but also to be able to question themselves.”

What’s more, in global organizations, there can be cultural differences to overcome, a lack of face-to-face communication, different laws and social mores. Not to mention time differences.

Petriglieri opines there is no set of skills or theories one can acquire by taking a few traditional business school classes that will fully prepare leaders for today’s challenges; rather, today’s leaders need to embark on an inward journey to handle complex issues and far-flung responsibilities which extend beyond the realm of one’s business or even one’s nation.

“What we need is both deeper and broader forms of leadership development,” says Petriglieri.“We need to develop what I’d call ‘leadership communities,’ rather than great leaders.” He refers to creating a collection of people and skills such as scholars of psycho-dynamics, researchers in cognitive sciences, ethics; leaders from industry and the military.

Are business schools up to this challenge? Can curricula be amended and enlarged appropriately? In the wake of the financial collapse some five years ago, institutions such as INSEAD promptly added courses in ethics to its heavily-finance curriculum. Today ethics is in the process of being amalgamated into finance courses. There are courses in political science and “leadership” and “managing global teams,” but business ““communications” as a separate course is not in the curriculum, despite the need today to address multiple audiences on multiple platforms.

About the Author

Shellie Karabell

Shellie Karabell,Contributor

I cover leadership – people, process & practice – from a European view

Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/shelliekarabell/2015/01/02/386/

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