These issues certainly require technical solutions, but they are also all, in the first instance, moral challenges that demand clear discernment of the good and the bad involved in each case, and then the will to choose the good and oppose the bad. A leader should never begin to apply technical solutions until he or she is certain that the right judgment, based on the objective truth about things, has been made, and people have been inspired to embrace that judgment and cooperate in working for the good that has been defined and justified.
While she is certainly correct to maintain that leadership development programs are often formulaic, Carroll’s opinion that “the leadership literature seemed concerned with petty organizational issues, relationships between direct reports and managers, and appeared to be obsessed with the psychology of leadership” only emphasises the degree to which leadership development is compromised by academic blinders and political correctness.
No one is ever going to tackle the big “pressing contemporary issues” effectively and efficiently until they have achieved organisational integrity and sound working relationships and teamwork, and those essentials depend almost entirely on the psychology of leadership. For better or worse, all parents, teachers, managers, and politicians necessarily use the psychology of leadership in pursuit of their objectives, and obviously, they are more likely to succeed if they have a sound understanding of that essential foundation.
Insight regarding human nature and the human condition, the truth about who we are and how we ought to live, is precisely the ground where leadership development either succeeds or fails. Leadership development that does not address worldview, culture, morality, virtue, motivation, perception, cognition, attitudes and emotion, socialisation, personality, character, and creativity, is simply not leadership development in any meaningful sense of the term. Carroll further undermines her own thesis as she attempts to give it more substance:
“It’s political work. It’s forming alliances and coalitions. It’s finding ways to speak across differences and boundaries. It’s coordinating across multiple levels, from CEOs to grass roots. It’s about multi-sector work, crossing out the private sector, working with the not-for-profit sector or the volunteer sector…Let’s stop thinking about leadership as about ‘me managing my team’ and let’s start thinking about it as ‘me in dialogue with multiple stakeholders all with their own agendas and interests and nonetheless we have to forge a way forward’.”
Politics, alliances, and coalitions, as we are all too aware, are often injurious to the well-being of people in a community, a company, or a country. It all depends on the ethical position taken by the people driving the politics and forming the alliances and coalitions. As Aristotle explained: “Virtue must be the concern of any state deserving of the name: for without this goal the community becomes a mere alliance…” And alliances more often than not exist for utilitarian purposes, and tend to collapse, with predictable collateral damage, once their usefulness wears thin.
Carroll’s call for a multi-sector focus instead of seeing leadership as “me managing my team” betrays something of the disingenuous insistence of political correctness on an ill-defined “tolerance” in a social milieu in which trust has been radically undermined at grass root levels. How on earth are we to foster healthy multi-sector relationships if we are unable, in the first instance, to inspire empathy, compassion, and teamwork within our immediate teams?
Notwithstanding her claims of ground-breaking revelations, Carroll’s views propounded in the interview, and presumably in her book, are broadly representative of much of the thinking coming out of academia. No doubt, many corporate head honchos would find her prognostications comforting, despite the fact that things have never been worse at the coalface and in communities at large.
In a 2016 Harvard Business Review article on leadership in the tech industry, Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield tackle the cultural challenges leaders face in that vibrant sector of the economy. “The tech industry’s combination of high-velocity competition, complexity, global talent, and interdependence among rivals makes it a truly unique environment, requiring a distinct set of leadership skills.”
What is of particular significance for anyone interested in leadership development is that, after their very convincing explanation of the somewhat peculiar demands of leadership in the tech industry, the two prime solutions proposed by Grenny and Maxfield refer directly to the essential cultural flaw that impacts all business categories and politics as well. They prescribe establishing two cultural norms:
“Create a culture where anyone can speak up and share his or her concerns when it’s in the interest of the mission. Truth is power, and dialogue is the antidote to elephants in the room. If you can’t talk about a problem, you can’t solve it.”
Build “a culture of accountability—one where people hold their managers, their peers, their customers and their direct reports accountable for the commitments they make.”
In a nutshell, they see defining reality, up, down, and sideways, as the only way to make leadership effective in their industry. But that is true of leadership in all situations and circumstances. And it is precisely what the culture of the postmodern West stifles at every turn. “What reality? We make our own reality.” “There is no objective truth, so there is no right and wrong.” “The past can teach us nothing; we have all the answers.” “Success is the sole criterion.”
Sadly, the utilitarians are unconcerned about what is really the soul criterion, the need for meaning and purpose, and a true vision of the Good, the essential foundation for the proper flourishing and fulfilment of humanity. Until this core issue is addressed, all talk of “sustainability, social responsibility, innovation, marketplace shifts, and inequality” will be so much hot air, and the leadership crisis will continue to mock the fantasy of a technocratic utopia.
The arrogant belief that human beings can define and reshape reality for themselves arose in tandem with the rejection of the cultural heritage of western civilisation. The wasteland of state schooling denies young people proper intellectual formation by its exclusion of classic literature, history, and philosophy, imposing what amounts to a closeting regime of censorship. This is the frontline of the war between a truth-seeking, liberating, fully human society, and the cold, calculating, utilitarian mindset of the “disenchanted” West. How do we turn back the tide of untruth?
I was born of Afrikaner stock, but raised in an Anglophile colonial society that taught me to see Plato, Shakespeare, Bach, and Goya as essential parts of my heritage, and I never once doubted the corresponding value of that heritage for the African people in whose midst we lived. That heritage opened my mind to allegedly alien cultural riches like The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Analects of Confucius, and the Bhagavad Gita, and the unshakeable conviction that all people need to know the great ideas of human cultural endeavour. As prominent scholars like Christopher Dawson, Remi Brague, and Pierre Manent have so ably pointed out, there is no part of the world that has not been indelibly shaped by European modernity, which in turn, was a product of the civilisation built on the foundations of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.
The suppression of that cultural heritage, and its replacement by the anarchic junk culture of postmodernism, has seen the emergence of an aggressive irrationalism and the recrudescence of barbarism, understood in the words of Jose Ortega y Gasset as “an absence of standards to which an appeal might be made”. Utility is not a standard since it has no set reference point other than the individual will, reducing morality to a no-holds-barred, survival-of-the-fittest, free-for-all. This is the reality the leadership development industry refuses to define. Roger Scruton, in the preface to Culture Counts, gave eloquent expression to the challenge.
“This posture of scepticism towards the classics displays a profound misjudgement. For the great works of western culture are remarkable for the distance that they maintained from the norms and orthodoxies that gave birth to them. Only a very shallow reading of Chaucer or Shakespeare would see those writers as endorsing the societies in which they lived, or would overlook the far more important fact that their works hold mankind to the light of moral judgment, and examine, with all the love and all the pity that it calls for, the frailty of human nature. It is precisely the aspiration towards universal truth, towards a God’s-eye perspective on the human condition, that is the hallmark of western culture.”