There are 15,000 books about leadership in print. Why so many?

It is evidence of our enduring interest. Who our leaders are, what drives them, which leadership qualities are timeless and which are new, what makes a good leader, how to succeed as a leader – these are questions we ask all the time, especially when faced by dubious leadership. We have been asking these questions since around 3000 BCE.

The number of books on leadership is no indication of quality. Often leadership books are dull recyclings of well-known ideas, vehicles to sell a pet theory, or thinly-disguised self-promotion. Leadership can resemble a fashion business: a few cutting-edge ideas, but a lot more knockoff schmutter.

To cut to the chase: what IS today’s leading thinking about leadership?

The pandemic concentrated leaders’ minds, and their time, on their most important asset: people. In our paper Leading Through The Pandemic we identified five defining qualities that had enabled leaders and their organisations to survive and thrive in 2020-21:

1. Resilience.
The ability to work through very difficult problems, again and again, always finding the energy to keep going, not letting go until the best answer is found, whilst remaining open to challenge and prepared to change in the light of better analyses.

2. Purpose.
Being absolutely ruthless in defining what the organisation is for, and unafraid to re-think that purpose in the face of fundamental change. Defining clear goals to energise employees and members. Setting the tone.

3. Clarity.
Having a clear understanding and articulation of the situation as it is, as it needs to be and how to get there. Communicating it all simply, consistently and often.

4. Passion for leadership.
Sharing issues with trusted peers, being thoughtful and curious, exploring best practice in people, online, in the media and in books. Looking for leadership-lessons anywhere in life.

5. Kindness.
Taking the extra time to look after people personally in impersonal times. The ability to engender trust has always been the mark of a good leader, but now deep empathy is needed too. It takes longer to build teams and consensus in cyberspace.

Resilience, Purpose, Clarity, Passion for Leadership, Kindness. The five qualities that led by example through one global crisis and will surely sustain us through the next.

Photo by Unsplash.