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Real Leadership Beyond Technical Solutions

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Barbara Kellerman, a former professor of mine at the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote a very important book called “The End of Leadership.” (Kellerman, 2012).  Despite the title, which some may assume (as I did) that it was a cynical take on leadership, the book is an assessment of the “leadership industry” which for the last 40 years had promised a great deal but not always delivered on that promise.  Moreover, Kellerman considers that leadership is not always good leadership; it has been and can be very bad leadership moving people into all types of social, economic, environmental, and political destruction.

Kellerman’s assertion has a great deal of merit.  She points out that most of the mission statements of US universities address the importance of creating future leaders but seldom mention the importance of both good leaders and good followers.  From corporate leadership retreats to expensive high school leadership camps, leadership is clearly of importance to society.

We cannot assume, however, that how we define leadership is all the same.  Some intermingle leadership with power, authority, and management.  And sometimes, leaders do utilize authoritarian or managerial skills to move change.  At Attuning, we define leadership as the mobilization of resources for socially constructive outcomes.  This differs from management which addresses the technical requirements of making an organization run effectively.  It also differs from authority or power in which one is required to follow the leader or there may be dire consequences if one doesn’t.

Followers choose to get behind leaders and leaders do not exist without followers. Followers in the 21st century have more power than ever with the use of technology and social media to influence their leaders.  It took very little to bring down the leadership of a New Jersey public school system when a concerned father used a voice recording device to demonstrate the ill-treatment of his son at school.  He uploaded the recording in which teachers ignore the children and speak of their drunken escapades.  Within a day, the father had hundreds of thousands of hits and the school district could no longer dismiss him as an unjustifiably demanding parent.

When Attuning consultants work with clients to assess leadership development or challenges, we go beyond just the technical assessment, and include an inside out and outside in assessment of the leaders, managers, and followers within a system. We ask whether the leader’s priorities are healthy for the organization and followers, or whether the leadership is potentially sabotaging the organizational efforts.

We listen to the stories from both within and without the organization; we complete proprietary assessments; and provide coaching to support organizations in doing the adaptive work that is needed. It is hard work without question, but incredibly important work. Perhaps the “end” that Kellerman refers to is an end to promises without results.  Attuning offers results in creating change in today’s fast-paced and ever-shifting world.

Erik Gregory Ph.D.  |


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Hi, I'm Ligia, business strategist and co-founder at I am interested in the concept of teaching through games and play. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

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