Leadership Is What Leadership Means

Gianpiero Petriglieri is Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, a regular contributor to the HBR blog, and a prolific and insightful tweeter. Indeed, the title of this post is taken from one of his recent tweets promoting his latest piece on HBR, “There is no shortage of leaders.”

Professor Petriglieri’s main point is that the methods and goals of leadership are misplaced.  He suggests that the current narrow view of leadership development and practice is falling short of what’s needed in today’s world.

“There is no shortage of leadership at all.”

“There are plenty of strong leaders. Eagerly and effectively pursuing the goals they are selected and rewarded to pursue—in the ways they are trained and expected to.”

“Those goals are simply not aligned with the changes most of us wish to see, and their pursuit benefits only narrow circles on whose approval those leaders depend.”

A crisis of purpose

The result of these misplaced leadership methods and goals is nothing short of a crisis of purpose, according to Professor Petriglieri.

“There is no shortage of leaders, and perhaps not even a crisis of leadership. There is a shrinking of collective imagination, a crisis of purpose—and much leadership development, with its overemphasis on leaders’ skills and styles, is complicit in it.”

“When it focuses on skills alone, the leadership-industrial complex demonstrates the same self-interested narrow mindedness of the leaders it chastises. The emphasis on leading right lets us avoid the harder question—what we are leading towards.”

“While leadership remains a synonym of getting our way while conforming to the latest etiquette manual, we shall continue cultivating stylish instrumentality. To stop doing so, we must help leaders help us redefine the expectations, norms, and structures we labor within—and the ends they are designed to pursue.”

What does this say about your leadership style?

Have you focused solely on developing more effective skills and styles of leadership? Have you allowed yourself to work only in service of the goals others have selected for you, and for the rewards they offer when you achieve them? Have you let your sense of purpose and meaning take a back seat?

Little wonder if you have, given the pressures on performance in today’s world. But, given what your leadership can mean in this world – to your bosses, your followers, society, and yourself – leading “right” isn’t enough.

Ask yourself the most important leadership question, “What is my purpose beyond just doing what is expected?” Consider how by raising your sights, opening your heart, and freeing your mind, you can answer the question you’ve been avoiding: “What are you leading towards?” Finally, rethink your approach to leadership with this thought: “Leadership is what leadership means.”

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