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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

Leadership Theories Are Dangerous

There are thousands of books on leadership. There are even more videos on YouTube, articles in journals, and experts offering training classes in hotel conference rooms.

Each one presents you, the reader, with a choice. “Do what I am telling you”, the expert says, “and you will find great success, all the wealth you desire, and many people who want to be you.”

“Just like I did.”

And what each of these theories says might be true.

True in part, true in full for some situations, true for a specific individual.

Or not true at all — the idea may be useless or counterproductive, or simplistic to the point of nonsense.

Yet the promise of the idea remains. “Do what I say, and you will be a leader.”

That this idea has great power over us can’t be denied. Every one of us wants success. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t want to make yourself better, if you weren’t interested in ideas about how to influence or inspire others. You would be watching cat videos or reading the latest news.

These promises take advantage of something deeply powerful but also very fragile in the human psyche — our recognition that we are not perfect, that we can take actions or make changes in our behavior to be more effective. There is incredible power in this idea, the viral power unlocked by the human brain and our nature as social animals — the power to gather ants with sharp sticks, or to build towering skyscrapers and forms of government based entirely on imaginary concepts. That this power is often turned against us — whether to con someone out of money in a leadership training, or to inspire ideas rooted in hate and violence — reminds us that each of us is capable of the rise and fall of man.

I don’t miss the irony of warning about how dangerous it can be to create a theory of leadership, when we am trying to do exactly that. But being aware of the pitfalls and dangers of this effort allows the Re:Define team and you, the reader, to navigate with caution. When we know that we are working through ideas that might lead us to make ineffective or outright damaging decisions in our businesses, careers, hobbies, and personal lives, we can evaluate our thoughts properly. Much worse is to present ideas without questioning or with supreme comfort that nothing bad could happen.

Imagine how damaging it is to make leadership appear easy, or to suggest ideas that just don’t work. When we set off on this quest, this book is our map. The real danger here isn’t that someone might have a misstep along the path because the map wasn’t accurate, but that someone might believe that he or she isn’t capable of the journey because the first few directions didn’t work, and then never try again to set off on adventure. That person loses a path in life that could have led to happiness and self-fulfillment, and the world loses the value of his or her contribution.

This is where my mind goes when we invite you to join us: the responsibility that comes with pretending that we know something about the powerful, mysterious thing we call leadership, the thing that makes people create and destroy societies.

We'll do our best to not let you down.

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