Dispelling the Leader Myth

Dispelling the Leader Myth

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?

Comments

Carol A. Holland's picture Carol A. Holland | November 19, 2014 1:49 pm MST

I believe that leadership is often confused with management and supervision of individuals or organizations. There are so many different leadership styles and over time they change considerbly. 

Christopher Knerr's picture Christopher Knerr | November 16, 2018 8:30 pm MST

Dr. Holland,

 

   I will agree with you wholeheartedly on your statement here.  I too feel that leadership styles have been increasingly challenged with the explosion of technology and virtualized environments.  This is actually what I am proposing to conduct my dissertation on for my DM/IST here with UOP.  A concern, or more so of a though, is that the direct relationships recently established over the past decade have led to a gap in the leadership research realm only because it has happened so quickly.  From personal experience, I have seen other cultures use leadership styles that are familiar to them, and similar to ours, yet they seem to clash from time to time leading to extensive and exhausting argumentative discussions we cannot take a break from since they are on meeting bridges or during organizational technology implementations.  What might your thoughts be to the evolution of leadership with the extreme shift in corporate strategy to use global partners and vendors for their operational activities?

Carol A. Holland's picture Carol A. Holland | November 19, 2014 1:49 pm MST

I believe that leadership is often confused with management and supervision of individuals or organizations. There are so many different leadership styles and over time they change considerbly. 

Carol A. Holland's picture Carol A. Holland | November 23, 2014 10:40 am MST

Leadership and Teaching: When I think of leadership, I think of teachers as leaders! My rationale is that teachers in the K-12 and the college enviornments must possess the leadership skills to be effective in the classroom. Currently, I supervisor teacher interns and pre-interns at the secondary school level. It is wonderful to see the novice teachers rise to the occasion and exhibit real leadership in challenging situations. I believe leadership takes many forms. The context in which leadership is utilized will influnce the elements of leadership defined in any situation.