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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Mad about Leadership

James O’Toole, author of more than a dozen leadership and management books, and coeditor of Good Business: Exercising Effective and Ethical Leadership, introduces an excerpt from The End of Leadership, by Barbara Kellerman, that takes the leadership industry to task.

Barbara Kellerman has every right to be mad as hell. Indeed, as you’ll see below, she is not being the least bit intemperate when she claims that our leaders have failed us of late. And she isn’t just talking about Ken Lay, Donald Rumsfeld, and others of their sorry ilk whose egregious behavior generated headlines about corporate bankruptcy and needless wars. She cites a recent poll showing that only 7 percent of all employees trust their leaders.

Kellerman’s main point is that those of us in the education racket deserve a full share of blame for this state of affairs. With a few notable exceptions, we’ve failed to recognize or acknowledge that the enterprise in which we are engaged is about as effective as faith healing. And, as she usefully notes, “the metrics are mostly missing” from the field of leadership development. In other words, we have no idea what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the education and training of leaders. I would go further and assert that we don’t even have metrics for what amounts to effective leadership in the first place (in contrast, for example, to the sound data available for judging the management of financial performance).

If anything, most corporate in-house leadership training is an even bigger waste of time and money than what goes on in business schools. Kellerman is right on target when she singles out the manifest inadequacies of the two corporate leadership development programs most often cited as world class: those at General Electric and Goldman Sachs. And those programs are run by the best minds in the business and supported by generous budgets!

Hey, I guess I’m as ticked off about all this as Kellerman is. If you aren’t, I suggest you read what she has written below and then you will be.

— James O’Toole


An excerpt from Chapter 7 of The End of Leadership


For all the large sums of money invested in the leadership industry, and for all the large amounts of time spent on teaching leadership, learning leadership, and studying leadership, the metrics are mostly missing. There is scant evidence, objective evidence, to confirm that this massive, expensive, thirty-plus-year effort has paid off. To the contrary: much more often than not, leadership development programs are evaluated according to only one, subjective measure: whether or not participants were satisfied with the experience. But, of course, even if they were, this does not prove the program had the impact it wanted or intended; in fact, the opposite might be true — it could be that the most satisfied participants were those who changed the least.

This is not to suggest that there are no leadership development programs that merit infusions of time and money, or that no institutions or individuals have benefited from the leader learning experience. What I am saying is this: As a whole the leadership industry is self-satisfied, self-perpetuating, and poorly policed; that leadership programs tend to proliferate without objective assessment; that leadership as an area of intellectual inquiry remains thin; and that little original thought has been given to what leader learning in the second decade of the twenty-first century should look like. There have, of course, been curricular revisions, adjustments here and there to the existing model. But in spite of the widespread disappointment in and distrust of leaders in the society at large, and despite the seismic changes in culture and technology, there has been scant alteration to the prevailing paradigm of learning how to lead; no significant attempt to reimagine the model to extend it over a longer period of years, say, or to include significant learning in the liberal arts, or to adjust to an era in which leading is less about refining the individual and more about reimagining the collective; no obvious progress in formulating a fundamental, coherent curriculum sequenced in a demonstrably (proven) sensible and successful way; and no thought given to instructing on following, when following wisely and well is manifestly as important as leading wisely and well.

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This Reviewer

  1. James O’Toole is the Bill Daniels Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. A contributing editor to strategy+business, he has written or edited 18 books, including, most recently, Good Business: Exercising Effective and Ethical Leadership (edited with Don Mayer, Routledge, 2010).

This Book

  1. The End of Leadership (HarperBusiness, 2012), by Barbara Kellerman
  2. Barbara Kellerman is the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She has also served as the founding executive director and research director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. A prolific speaker and writer, she counts among her other books Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters (Harvard Business School Press, 2004) and Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders (Harvard Business School Press, 2008).


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