What is Leadership Anyway?

In The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman (2016) explores the leadership industry and the varying definitions of leaders over time. He starts with the idea that leadership flourishes, if not emerges, in times of crisis. And despite the many failures of fetishized (and glorified) leadership, our faith in the idea of leadership is unwavering. This creates a feedback loop, whereby the disappointments of current leaderships create a longing for “real” leaders who will replace the failing leaders.

Rothman (2016) that examines briefly the many theories of leadership, including theories about trait based leadership, task based (bureaucratic tasks) leadership, charismatic leadership and emergent leadership. He also discusses the shift from trait based leadership to a process based approach, which favors the task over the charisma and suggests that the process is learnable unlike which traits which are inherent. There are even times with Rothman notes the importance of followers to the leader, but doesn’t spend much time exploring how that role influences the leader or the decisions that are made by leaders.

From all of this, Rothman (2016) argues that the leadership industry has flourished. Leadership is more appealing. More people can emerge as leaders (as opposed to being formally named as leaders). Definitions of leadership are also being stretched outside of the business world, to artists and writers. Lastly, he argues that leaders are storytellers, but also characters is the stories. We look to leaders to help us make sense of the world, but it again, they tend to disappoint which feeds our insatiable need for the next great leader.

He closes by forcing the reader to consider what they want in a leader and notes that what is most likely one of the most critical qualities of a leader is perspective.

Rothman, J. (2016, February 29). Shut up and sit down: Why the leadership industry rules. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/29/our-dangerous-leadership-obsession


About Teresa Cole

Previous middle school teacher. Current Instructional Specialist. I dork out on collaboration, social justice, lifelong learning and ed policy.
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