When confused with “leader” and “leading” leadership can become a social myth. Gemmill and Oakley (1992) referred to leadership as a social fiction not unlike what Fromm (1941) labeled a “false consciousness” in describing the process of cultural programming.
Some of the confusion around the concept of leadership seems to stem from the process of reification. Reification is a social process which converts an abstraction or mental construct into a supposed real entity. Through reification the social construction of leadership is mystified and accorded an objective existence. (p. 114)
Does the responsibility fall to George Washington? Does the image of this exceptionally courageous leader standing tall in the longboat with the nation’s new flag symbolically flying behind him is a powerful image. It effectively cemented the image of the leader at the helm, in command, and, because we know the outcome, as perennially victorious. Because of this image, and other leader profiles like it, the expectations we hold for our leaders became inflated and as a direct result forced our leaders into a victory or death mantra. It is all very dramatic as the winning leader always found the way to save the day – to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Everybody loves a winner. The leader myth was born as the image of this undefeatable leader became the iconic symbol of leadership. These leaders won through courage, clarity of purpose, strength of personality and sacrifice with the total exclusion of one central ideal – surrender. ‘Never surrender’ is the crux of our image of the great leader and as a direct result sacrifice became an expectation. Even in defeat the image of this profile would remain untarnished as he would most assuredly go down with ship – no surrender.
With what care should we approach a construct like leadership? How shall we define it? What is the purpose of leadership?