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The Leadership Myth

by Lionel Stanbrook February 9, 2012

Billions of dollars have been wasted by businesses in the teaching of leadership, generally in stopping most people from learning true business skills in favor of teaching them that their bosses are, like the Catholic Popes of old, infallible.

No boss I have known has ever admitted that they were bad leaders (as this is professional suicide), but most of them were not only incapable of managing people properly or fairly but also adept and exhaustive at promoting their leadership qualities to their own bosses. This has often been characterized as the ability to kiss up and kick down.To be sure, the performance assessment of leadership has always been the wrong way round. Those who are suspected of bad leadership are assessed by those who lead them and not by those who are led by them, thus the assessment is always from the top and not from the team.

In turn this always generates a disconnected assessment, since the person assessing your qualities, being on the higher ground where actual productive work is less but management work is more, has little idea of what you are actually doing and how you are doing it.

If the opinions of the leader’s team members ever mattered over the prejudices of their leader's bosses, there would be a better and brighter set of leaders in business right now. The incommunicators, the leveragers, the information hoarders and the socially inadequate would be those worrying about their career, and the genuinely well supported and respected team players would be the leaders.

Nothing in any of the leadership courses I have suffered from for over thirty years has done anything other than to confirm that the most useful leadership skills in big business are in fact about managing upwards and not downwards. This is because doing it the right way round would start a revolution and remove most business leaders from their posts fairly prompto.

Thus, when leadership is never seriously tested by asking those who are led, and since those who are popular with their superiors are rarely popular with their team (and vice versa), it follows that no company suffering from the leadership myth will ever manage to achieve a genuinely good external or internal reputation. They will always be asking the wrong people. They will never see the signals. They will never hear the messages.