Sandra Peart, co-founder of this blog, published today an interesting op-ed in The Washington Post, "Overhauling how we teach leadership" (February 12).
Peart's thesis is that
"we spend too much time bemoaning the fact that our leaders aren't all really good people. Instead, we need to spend more time looking at whether we have good norms for choosing our leaders and holding them accountable, and good processes from which leadership emerges and functions ethically."
She goes on:
"It's time for those of us who teach and write about leadership explicitly to acknowledge the essential difference between studying leaders and studying leadership…. [T]he latest research indeed treats leadership as a phenomenon much more complex than the person who holds authority….
"We need to recognize and help our students appreciate that leaders operate within a set of culturally determined norms, within a particular temporal and spatial context…. The problem with using leaders as a starting point for studying leadership is that it draws attention away from the study of institutions, norms and rules within which leadership functions….
"Leadership is complex and requires many lenses to understand it. Psychology is helpful, yes, but so are history and philosophy, science and economics. It's time to recognize that leadership is more capacious than the study of leaders and followers. We must cut this Gordian knot."
So we need to peel back the layers of human interaction to uncover where and how moral norms and institutions arose and evolved. Sounds like a job for… Adam Smith!
To emphasize Sandra's point, watch the new Lincoln movie. Daniel Day-Lewis does a wonderful job depicting Lincoln's approach to leadership, understood by and colored by the time and place of mid-19th century America.