Monkey See Monkey Do Leadership

As of one minute ago, a search on Amazon for books with the word “leadership” in the title returned a staggering 129,910 hits. When I narrowed that down to business-related leadership, I found roughly half that number. And this still leaves out those authors who took a more creative approach to their title!

Any way you look at it, that’s an awful lot of books on one topic. Add in the countless blog posts and how-to articles and there is an entire industry selling a quick fix solution to the leadership challenge that organizations and our society face.

The sheer volume of ink and webspace suggests there may be a problem: If some of these books were truly effective at addressing the much-lamented lack of leaders, then why so many books? And so few leaders?

For sure, each of these books has something to recommend, whether good stories or some take-home messages. But from what I can see, the vast majority of these books seem to focus on the same question: “What is it that great leaders do?” How do they think, how do they act, how do they hire and motivate people? How do they organize their time, what’s the last thing they do before they go to bed, and how do they dress for success?

The implication is that if you think, act, and dress like these leaders then you too will soon be a great leader.

I call it the “Monkey See, Monkey Do” approach to leadership. It’s an empty shell of a promise – it looks nice from the outside, but turn it over and there’s nothing in there.

Seeing what “great” leadership looks like is undoubtedly inspiring. But surely, every acknowledged leader that comes to mind – from Alexander the Great to Margaret Thatcher to Jack Welch – set out to be him- or herself, and not the mirror of someone else.

Perhaps the reason we have so many thousands of books on leadership is because the most important question (for my money) has not yet been answered. And that question is:

What is the process by which ordinary people develop into great leaders?

Because almost everybody starts out ordinary. And if the business world, or the world in general, is crying out for more and better leaders to steer us through our many challenges (global warming, anyone?), then we will need to tap into the talents of many more leaders than we have today.

The world can’t wait forever – and if you’re young and ambitious, chances are you don’t want to either. Despite all the books, and all the money that big companies spend on “leadership development” programs, we don’t seem to be developing leaders nearly quickly enough. So there is real urgency to this issue, and that begs another question:

How can I accelerate the process of developing my leadership potential into a proven capacity to lead?

We don’t need more monkeys. We need to answer the question of how leaders are grown, and how we can speed that process up, and then we need to share that knowledge with as many people as we can.

And that’s the reason for the book I’m writing: The Big Ride. Stay tuned.

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