Get Real: Don’t Idealize Our Leaders

Ideal Boss

For one who is just beginning to enter the world of Leadership as a scholarly study,  I am struck by the reverence with which Transformational Leadership theory is held.

Transformational Leader

I was initially quite struck with the theory myself the first time I heard about it. I began to see leadership theories on a linear continuum from negative to positive:

It seemed to me that this theory put forward by thinkers such as James McGregor Burns and Bernard Bass had the description of a great leader down to a science.

The more I have thought about it, the more I believe that the theory has a fundamental flaw.

Break it Down: 4 Concepts

Without oversimplifying the theory to the point of disrespect, the basic elements are contained in the following four concepts:

  1. The leader must show Individual Consideration;
  2. The leader must support Intellectual Stimulation;
  3. The leader must provide Inspiration;
  4. The leader must exert Idealized Influence.

Individual Consideration

Transformational leaders certainly must consider the needs of individual followers when providing guidance and mentorship.

Intellectual Stimulation

There is a personal interaction or relationship between leader and follower. Followers need to be stimulated intellectually. They must be challenged to think creatively and to grow as students.


The transformational leader must be able to inspire greatness in followers; to raise up their aspirations and to lift their hearts.

Idealized Influence

Followers must be inspired to set out on a path for a higher purpose; but at what point does this idealized influence slide into charismatic leadership? Is there a concern in moving a leader from among us to above us?

Keeping it Real

“Leader” must never become a “God-term.”

To paraphrase Mary Parker Follett, leaders are everywhere.

In fact, the very word “leader” could be exploded in favour of the larger role of leadership. The line between leader and follower blurs when leadership moves all people towards a common purpose.

This is central to her idea of the ‘leadership of everyman.’

(Note: Follett used the term ‘everyman’ not to denote leadership belongs in the domain of men, it simply reflects the time in which she was writing and lecturing. No one could accuse a woman lecturing at the London School of Economics in the 1920’s as having a pro-male bias.)

Why is the leadership of everyman such an important idea today?

This question will form the basis of some future posts. There are several reasons:

  • Our social networking is leading to our increased social production and mass collaboration
  • The way we organize ourselves is becoming less hierarchical in some areas and more network-based
  • These changes in social production and organizational structure mean we need to review leadership through the “network” lens

The Networked Leader

Leadership is quickly becoming less about being in a spot on an organizational chart, and more about appearing on different nodes in a web at any given moment.

  • Our hierarchies are shifting and making space for networks
  • Our organizations are becoming less structured, more virtual
  • Our networks are making us more autonomous

More and more, we will come to rely on self-determination and intrinsic motivation. Our leaders will need to be less idealized, and more ubiquitous; “everyman” will need to share in our new leadership.

Kevin Allardyce is Organizational Leadership Guy
He  recently received his Master’s Certificate in Organizational Leadership 
Email | LinkedIn 

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2 responses to “Get Real: Don’t Idealize Our Leaders

  1. Good blog post. A lot of folks who study leadership resort to hero worship. People often confuse fame with leadership. It’s all-to-easy to write a blog (or a book) about some fameous company or person and hold them up as the leadership standard. By inflating leadership this way, we become dwarfed by the concept. Then leadership moves beyond the grasp of the everyman.

    Rather than look for leadership lessons from Starbucks, Google, and Apple, people should start looking for them in their local morning newspaper. There are examples of “everyday leadership” everywhere … if you stop looking up at the Pantheon and start looking in your own community.


  2. Pingback: Leadership updates for 04/17/2012·

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