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Thinking about ... leadership. Warts and all.
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Thinking about ... leadership. Warts and all.

Author: B Kellerman Affiliation: Center for Public Leadership, Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication:Harvard business review, 2004 Jan; 82(1): 40-5, 112
Summary:
Does using Tyco's funds to purchase a $6,000 shower curtain and a $15,000 dog-shaped umbrella stand make Dennis Kozlowski a bad leader? Is Martha Stewart's career any less instructive because she may have sold some shares on the basis of a tip-off? Is leadership synonymous with moral leadership? Before 1970, the answer from most leadership theorists would certainly have been no. Look at Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao  Read more...
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Document Type: Article
All Authors / Contributors: B Kellerman Affiliation: Center for Public Leadership, Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
ISSN:0017-8012
Language Note: English
Unique Identifier: 111687122
Awards:

Abstract:

Does using Tyco's funds to purchase a $6,000 shower curtain and a $15,000 dog-shaped umbrella stand make Dennis Kozlowski a bad leader? Is Martha Stewart's career any less instructive because she may have sold some shares on the basis of a tip-off? Is leadership synonymous with moral leadership? Before 1970, the answer from most leadership theorists would certainly have been no. Look at Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tsetung--great leaders all, but hardly good men. In fact, capricious, murderous, high-handed, corrupt, and evil leaders are effective and commonplace. Machiavelli celebrated them; the U.S. constitution built in safeguards against them. Everywhere, power goes hand in hand with corruption--everywhere, that is, except in the literature of business leadership. To read Tom Peters, Jay Conger, John Kotter, and most of their colleagues, leaders are, as Warren Bennis puts it, individuals who create shared meaning, have a distinctive voice, have the capacity to adapt, and have integrity. According to today's business literature, to be a leader is, by definition, to be benevolent. But leadership is not a moral concept, and it is high time we acknowledge that fact. We have as much to learn from those we would regard as bad examples as we do from the far fewer good examples we're presented with these days. Leaders are like the rest of us: trustworthy and deceitful, cowardly and brave, greedy and generous. To assume that all good leaders are good people is to be willfully blind to the reality of the human condition, and it severely limits our ability to become better leaders. Worse, it may cause senior executives to think that, because they are leaders, they are never deceitful, cowardly, or greedy. That way lies disaster.

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