Summer 2016

Leadership–It’s a System, Not a Person!

Barbara Kellerman

This article argues that the leadership industry has been beset by a bias. This bias has been directed toward leaders and away from two other variables that equally pertain–and that equally explain the trajectory of human history. The first is followers, or others who are in any way relevant, even if passively. And the second is contexts, within which leaders and followers necessarily are embedded.

Together these three parts, each of which is equally important and each of which impinges equally on the other two, make up the leadership system. This article suggests that the approximately forty-year-old leadership industry has paid a heavy price for its obsession with leaders at the expense of whoever/whatever else matters. For the industry has not in any major, measurable way improved the human condition, which is precisely why it should be reconsidered and reconceived.

BARBARA KELLERMAN is the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is the author and editor of many books on leadership and followership, including Leadership: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (1984); Reinventing Leadership (1999); Bad Leadership (2004); Women and Leadership (2008); Followership (2008); The End of Leadership (2012); and Hard Times: Leadership in America (2014). She has also taught at Fordham, Tufts, George Washington, Dartmouth (Tuck), and Uppsala Universities.

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