THE ALMOST INSATIABLE demand for leadership studies is a natural outgrowth of the all-too-frequent leadership failures in government, business, and nonprofits. Few people trust their leaders, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer surveys, among others. Gallup data show low levels of employee engagement worldwide, while the Conference Board finds job satisfaction at a low ebb and executive tenures decreasing. Other research consistently indicates that companies give their own leadership-development efforts low marks. Leaders aren’t doing a good job for themselves or their workplaces, and things don’t seem to be improving.
This consuming interest in leadership and how to make it better has spawned a plethora of books, blogs, TED talks, and commentary. Unfortunately, these materials are often wonderfully disconnected from organizational reality and, as a consequence, useless for sparking improvement. Maybe that’s one reason the enormous resources invested in leadership development have produced so few results. Estimates of the amount spent on it range from $14 billion to $50 billion a year in the United States alone.