Leading Blog


What It Takes to Lead

Taboos of Leadership

TONY SMITH believes that much of the leadership literature today dances around what it really takes to lead because there are some areas that are politically incorrect or just too difficult to talk about. As a result we have created a “sanitized, air-brushed, or glorified picture of leadership that masks or disguises reality” and we never really get at what leaders do and why they do it.

The Taboos of Leadership
Through his frame of reference, that of executive coach and advocate, he adds great value to our understanding of the realities of leadership even if at times, his conclusions derail when trying to understand leadership at any other level that that of the CEO. In his new book, The Taboos of Leadership his observation that “leaders who are successful never quite fit the theories we apply to them and are always messier and more complex than we would predict” is quite true. It is an aspect that is missing from or far too understated in most leadership literature. Perhaps that explains why international leadership expert Manfred Kets De Vries, wants to put the leader on the couch.

Smith writes:

There is nothing tidy or clean about leadership. It’s messy, but so is the rest of life.

What makes an effective leader is a contradictory collage of motivations and drivers, rewards and costs. We can’t teach leadership, not in the sense that we’ve been trying thus far. We can’t look at all the theories of leadership and say: Do this, this, and this, and you will become or create a good leader. But we can understand leadership much better than we do now. If we take a look below the surface, into the blood, guts, and pulsing arteries of leadership, we are bound to understand leadership as a process much, much better.

He asks ten taboo-braking questions: What does it take to lead? Does charisma matter? Is being political a bad thing? Do women make better leaders? What about the trappings of power? Should the leader play favorites? Do leader’s really want to groom a successor? Should a leader’s work be their life? Should leaders put aside their own motivations and interests and serve only the motivations and interests of their people? Do leaders cultivate loneliness deliberately?

He left out a direct discussion of followers and authority. These are two areas that are misunderstood as often as they are poorly executed. The proliferation of “leaderless organization” literature will attest to that fact. Instead of sugar-coating or dismissing these topics, we should seek a better understanding of these vital and necessary issues.

Smith suggests: “Perhaps we should know, or at least recognize, the risk-reward ratio of leadership a little better before we judge our leaders, or decide to become one ourselves.” That point can’t be emphasized enough.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:28 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Books , Leadership



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