Shut Up and Sit Down: Why the leadership industry Rules by Joshua Rothman
The New Yorker, February 29, 2016
Much energy has gone into discussing the meaning, purpose, theory, and activity of leadership. What is it and how does it work? Is it management or inspiration? Visionary or pragmatic? There's no consensus answer to these questions, which is perhaps why the leadership industry - the subject of Joshua Rothman's article, "Shut Up and Sit Down" - continues to grow in size. Rothman pays specific attention to a dichotomy at the heart of leadership; is it a trait or a set of actions? Evidence points to the latter. Corporations, looking for a charismatic "tribal figure" to boost earnings, spend billions on leadership training, but very little evidence exists that these investments improve company performance. On the contrary, when we view leadership as an activity, more people have an opportunity to master the leadership process. The most illuminating part of Rothman's article is his analysis of Gautam Mukunda's theory of how organizations filter leaders. Gautam, a Harvard Business School professor, notes that in heavily filtered organizations, where everyone has to jump through the same hoops, leaders are more or less interchangeable. In unfiltered organizations, where potential leaders come from diverse backgrounds, choosing a leader is a riskier proposition. Rothman's article is a candid assessment of the leadership industry and leadership theory; his analysis is engaging, fun, and informative.