Is Leadership Dead?
- Monday, June 13, 2011
Books that start with the author dying are rare (if not downright impossible to write, for obvious reasons) yet Jeremie Kubicek’s Leadership Is Dead does just that... almost. Kubicek starts with a near-death experience that changed his life: a car accident in the middle of a hurricane landfall.
The book’s structure is fairly straightforward. Chapters one through four provide context and theory, and then chapters five through nine provide practical steps and applications. Chapter ten lays down the gauntlet with it’s title “Why You Probably Won’t Do This” (and considering the competitive nature of most leaders, I think this is a brilliant piece of reverse psychology).
For a book on life-affirming leadership, Kubicek begins with a surprising amount of death. For example, the book opens with Kubicek reflecting on the death of a leader he knew in Russia, followed by his own aforementioned near-death experience, and what he next describes as the death of leadership itself. His basic argument: command and control styles of leadership don’t work anymore. Instead, successful leaders strive for influence. Further, true influence requires leaders to give themselves away. What then is the major obstacle for effective leadership today? Self-preservation.
So how do leaders rise above this obstacle of self-preservation? Kubicek suggests seven actions:
- First, give trust and become trustworthy.
- Second, become credible instead of just smart.
- Third, be intentional about your influence.
- Fourth, break through walls of self-preservation.
- Fifth, pursue relationship before opportunity.
- Sixth, give yourself away.
- And finally, become significant in your impact.
To Kubicek’s credit, I think his “influence” model is spot on. While command and control leadership models can take care of immediate issues, such models will not promote a self-sustaining organization. Succession planning is tremendously important for long-lasting organizations, and dominator-led organizations struggle when leaders move on. A variety of leadership writers have called for the end of command-and-control style leadership for nearly four decades. Two examples: Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership model in the 1970’s, and more recently, Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Sciences, which draws from quantum physics and argues for the importance of information in self-organizing systems.
Kubicek also rightly summarizes the three possible perceptions that followers have of leaders: either they are (a) for me, (b) against me, or (c) for themselves alone. A variety of leadership research can support this, indicating that even the most heroic leadership stories are easily dismissed (or even made disempowering) when followers believe the leader is simply trying to manipulate them.
Also to his credit, Kubicek deals with the human side of leadership. His book is not just about management principles that guarantee greater profits, and he certainly does not write in a self-aggrandizing manner like other successful leaders who fill their books with self-starring heroic narratives.
Now for my one major critique: Kubicek does not describe leadership principles for limited human beings. Rather, he seems to assume an unlimited supply of time, energy, health, etc., that is simply not present in a fallen world. Certainly he is not alone in this oversight, as much of the leadership literature available today falls into the same trap.
Kubicek calls for leadership in spite of limitations, almost to the extent of ignoring one’s limits, giving everything away. My personal fear is that idealists who take this advice to heart will become martyr-leaders who sacrifice everything (including life-sustaining family and spiritual relationships) for the sake of the cause. Leaders operate in a world of limited resources trying to meet unlimited needs. This is where Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership model seems more reasonable: servant leaders both serve and are served by society, so they avoid martyr leadership.
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