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Leadership Gurus

In the late 1970’s and early 80’s a number of writers ganged up on management. They were looking for a scapegoat to blame for the failure of U.S. business to cope with the Japanese commercial invasion.

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner is extremely popular but it originated in the 1980s when everyone was trashing management. Is their concept of leadership still valid for the 21st century? Is there no constructive role for management?

Ronald A. Heifetz views leadership as helping people work through "adaptive challenges." This is important work but it calls for catalysts or facilitators, not leaders.

What do managers do? Henry Mintzberg has been trying to answer this question for 40 years. But is it still relevant in an age when all employees need to manage? Or is it a relic of the industrial age? Is management a role, an exclusive club, or a function for all?

Level 5 leaders draw new strategies out of their teams, but this is facilitation, a management technique. Leadership directly influences people to think or act differently, especially when shown by example or bottom-up.

It is hard to disagree with the principles that Stephen Covey describes in his book Principle Centered Leadership but it is arguable that people can show leadership without following them.

John C. Maxwell’s views on leadership are very conventional. His leaders hold positions of influence at a time when hierarchy is breaking down. Some of his “21 irrefutable laws of leadership” are questionable for a knowledge driven age.

Like other leadership gurus of his generation, Warren Bennis jumped on the disastrous 1980's management-bashing bandwagon, thus helping to create a distorted glorification of leadership.

John Kotter has a highly regarded approach to differentiating leaders from managers, but it is arguable that managers can do much of what his leaders do and that leadership has a very different meaning.