The dance between leaders and followers

Being a leader is often not easy work. Some of what leaders do can be routine and ceremonial but much of it is neither simple nor enjoyable. While corporate and financial CEOs and managers receive generous salaries, some leader responsibilities are difficult, or personally distressing, or disagreeable. For example, leaders report losing former friends because of decisions they made; and the demands and challenges of the job can negatively affect family life.2 Success at leading is also difficult: Several studies calculate a failure rate in the 60 to 65 percent range across a variety of organizational settings.3 Many people don’t want the job, and some who think they do are not very good at it.

Why is leading so hard? Ron Heifetz, in his book on leadership,Leadership Without Easy Answers, notes that leadership is difficult or even dangerous because of the expectations: We put leaders on pedestals and build them up romantically. We imbue them with supernatural abilities to solve our problems. The “romance” of leadership is one thing, the actual process of day-to-day management is something else.4 Careful review of leadership studies and newspaper articles indicates we either give leaders too much credit—the romantic part—or we blame them for everything that goes badly—the scapegoating part. Unrealistic and heroic expectations are exacerbated by a human inclination to look toward the top of organizations for answers and solutions. When the problems ...

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