LIA • VOLUME 28, NUMBER 4 • SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008
reign or, perhaps, suffocate. Leaders
who attempt to be creative either
have to be brilliant or be completely
in control. It helps if they are both.
6. People in charge will hang on
7. Sexual appetites will intrude.
(Read the newspapers from any ran-
8. Demographic categories are
inordinately difficult to deal with.
Race, gender, religion, ethnicity, geo-
graphic location, and perhaps even age
and physical stature have little direct
relevance to leadership, but just try
leading people who are in a different
demographic category than you are.
9. Two basic dimensions of lead-
ership—task orientation and relation-
ship orientation—have constantly
appeared and reappeared in the lead-
ership research literature in the past
forty years. Both people and produc-
tivity are important.
10. There is almost no good
experimental research on leadership.
For example, to my knowledge, no
organization has ever said: “Look, we
have fifty branch offices. Let’s put our
best men in charge of twenty-five of
them, and our best women in charge
of the other twenty-five, and see what
happens.” In this sense, virtually noth-
ing written about leadership has any
solid, scientific, “laboratory-like”
foundation. Of course, the same can
be said about war, love, religion, and
parenthood, but that does not stop us
from pontificating about them.
11. Ambition is terribly impor-
tant; to be a successful leader one has
to dearly want to make a difference.
Leaders who are not fueled by some
internal sense of urgency are usually
12. Technical knowledge about
the area being led is, at a minimum,
useful, often critical.
13. The most brilliant leaders are
those who make intuitive decisions
that turn out, when all the facts are
in, to fit the facts.
14. For advice, given the choice,
leaders will turn to other leaders rather
than to experts. Leaders have trouble
granting credibility to anyone who has
not walked a mile in their Guccis.
15. Sooner or later, and it is often
sooner, almost all organizations will
demonstrate dysfunctionality. Even
the simplest organizational tasks
escalate in complexity over time, cre-
ating either bad feelings or poor per-
formance. Simply assigning parking
places, getting the coffee pot cleaned
daily, or asking someone to cover the
switchboard over lunch will eventu-
ally lead to friction.
16. Poor leadership is far more
visible from below than from above,
which means that in most organiza-
tions, those responsible for evaluating
leaders—usually their superiors—are
poorly positioned to do so.
17. Few organizations have fig-
ured out how to allocate the rewards
for good leadership fairly, rationally,
and politically acceptably.
18. Most leaders do not have any-
where near the power that they think
they do, nor that their subordinates
think they do. Still, their visibility
alone creates symbolic power that
should not be underestimated. Even
so, just because you think you are in
charge, and just because the people
below you think you are in charge,
that does not necessarily mean you
can get the trains to run on time.
19. Fascinating as the concept is,
I cannot think of any way of estimat-
ing whether the good done by out-
standing leaders is equal to, or more
or less than, the damage done by
poor ones. In my own life, the good
done by outstanding leaders has far,
far outweighed the damage done by
the bad ones, but perhaps that is
because I have usually been in situa-
tions where I could essentially ignore
the bad ones.
20. Humor is potent in leadership
settings but not one leader in a hun-
dred uses it well. Ronald Reagan was
a wonderful role model for humor in
leadership. In the aftermath of the
1981 assassination attempt on him
outside the Hilton Washington hotel,
he was rushed to George Washington
University Hospital and, badly bleed-
ing, was laid on an operating table.
Looking up at the surgeons hovering
over him, he said, “Gosh, I hope you
guys are all Republicans.” Liberal or
conservative, we can all use more
21. Leadership is physically hard
work, requiring long hours, wrench-
ing decisions, unexpected crises,
exhausting travel, complicated agen-
das, and never-ending social demands.
Those who are not physically robust
will seldom rise to the top.
So there they are: twenty-one leader-
ship observations, collected over an
earlier twenty-one years, that still
seem applicable today. I have an
unsettling feeling that I am now accu-
mulating new, insightful observations
more slowly than before, perhaps
documenting what I said earlier:
many leaders hang on too long.
David Campbell is the CCL H. Smith
Richardson Senior Fellow Emeritus.
His honors include an honorary Doctor
of Humane Letters degree from the
University of Colorado, the 2001 Dis-
tinguished Professional Contributions
Award from the Society for Industrial
and Organizational Psychology, and
the 2007 Distinguished Alumnus Award
from Iowa State University.
Ambition is terribly
important; to be a suc-
cessful leader one has
to dearly want to make