THE END OF LEADERSHIP
Barbara Kellerman urges readers to consider the “other side” of leadership. the thesis of The End of Leadership is that leadership has changed and that today we must embrace a leadership marked not by commanding or controlling but by a focus on helping people (servant leadership) to achieve their goals. this is the “end” of the traditional leadership style. But Kellerman’s accompanying concern is that the “leadership industry” is more interested in making money on this issue than in providing real solutions for leadership. as such, chief among her recommendations is that readers learn more about leadership instead of how to be a leader.
the book has valuable thoughts for those who want to be leaders for this time. One of the concepts is this: “Leadership is devolution of power— from those up to those down below” (p. 3). What a stunning thought! the power of leadership has shifted through the centuries from leaders to followers, especially in the past 30 to 40 years. this model of “followers on the rise, leaders in decline” (p. 20) is making a new sort of sense for the 21st century. though the concept has almost no weaknesses, it is controversial in that it parts with the traditional command/control structure that has traditionally marked managed organizations. Kellerman references the social contract in leadership, citing only two reasons that followers may accept a contract today: “either we go along because we have to (or think we do), or we go along because we want to” (p. 70). the reality of this statement is so obvious, and can be applied anywhere and at any time in the world’s history. all kinds of relationship with leadership involve a contract—either formal or informal; followers today are much more involved in the process of making the contract. In the postmodern context, engaging followers as a part of this process allows leadership to be more effective. this kind of combined work (leader + follower) avoids commanding and controlling.
The author’s personal reflections about the leadership industry are a helpful part of this book. It’s very interesting to hear an academic who has worked for more than 40 years in the “leadership industry” speak so openly about the problems of the “industry.” Kellerman declares that everything seems to be about money: it’s the driving force behind the multitude of leadership books and classes. Future leaders must be selective in the materials and even courses that they choose.
as the book says, we are living in the context of deep social, cultural and technological change. how can we dare to use the same old-fashioned style of leadership for our churches? Maybe this is one of the reasons that we are making such slow progress with Millennials: Is it possible that organizational/denominational leaders, including most local pastors, are still practicing leadership behaviors of command and control that are resisted or rejected by young people? today we have the freedom “to say anything to anyone about anything or anyone, anywhere, at any time, in real time” (p. 51).
Young people are longing for this kind of freedom inside the church, but they are not finding it. “It is impossible to talk about change, so far as leadership and fellowship are concerned, without talking simultaneously about generational change” (p. 54). today people are using the titles of “Professor” and “Doctor” less and using personal titles like “Richard”
and “Stanley” more of the time. Many leaders feel bad when, instead of being called “Pastor” or “Professor,” they are called by their name. this change in forms of address with leaders flattens the leadership structure and places the leader and follower on the same level. “this is an evidence of the decline in respect for authority” (p. 25). the idea is that any kind of commanding and controlling is “dead and gone” (p. 31); instead, leaders are increasingly being expected to cooperate and collaborate for the realization of tasks. Kellerman uses the television show America Idol as an illustration of how experts can help in the process, but that the ultimate decision of who wins is left to those who are watching the show.
Similarly, in our churches, the pastor as an “expert” can conduct the process, but the church members have the final word.
Some practical counsel is given regarding the “leadership industry”:
There is more money to be made in teaching people how to lead than there is in teaching people how to follow—how to follow with intelligence and integrity, which sometimes entails refusing to follow, refusing to go along with leaders who are ineffective or unethical or both. (p. 172)
Wow! how much is the church investing in training followers rather than training the relatively small cadre of leaders? could this be the key secret to overcoming our current growth challenges? Maybe we need to train leaders and followers in an organization designed to be freely associated—leaders who understanding following and followers who know how to exercise leadership.
This book embraces and shares many good ideas and reflections regarding leadership and its future. the author suggests that maybe one of the solutions is to be found in an understanding and application of the servant leadership model (p. 179).
Leaders must look to the collective interest. another of her recommendations relates to our investment in leadership training. Instead of learning and teaching how to lead, maybe leadership education should have “the purpose of learning about leadership” (p. 179).
I recommend The End of Leadership for every person who wants to contextualize the meaning of leadership today. the book will open readers’ minds to an understanding that the leadership process has in a sense reversed in our time, which means that followers are playing a more significant role in leadership. Reading this book will help readers understand how to proceed in this new context of leadership.
RIchaRD FIGUEREDO is the publishing director for the West central Brazil Union and makes his home in Brasilia, Brazil.