Misled; 11 Lies About Leadership

Misled; 11 Lies About Leadership (2023), the latest boek of European Leadership Platform (ELP) Director Twan van de Kerkhof is an interesting read. Of course because he truly debunks 11 lies about leadership – in a very constructive way.
But much more because he, in debunking those 11 lies about leadership, outlines the necessity of a new paradigm for leadership.
Broadly conceived, leadership is a matter of how one engages in life and interacts with the world and particularly with one’s fellow human beings. It is concerned with an individual’s particular manner of thinking, inquiring, perceiving, valuing, and acting in a collective rather than individual context. Important: leadership is not universal.

Here are some fine lessons I took away from reading this provocative book.

No organization can escape from wicked problems, impossible conflicts between opposing forces: family pressure and work demands, meeting customer needs while maintaining a consistent and focused product, or assimilation of technological change while maintaining core values and culture.
Lesson (1)
Another perspective, another worldview, another paradigm would yield additional ways of thinking, perceiving, valuing, inquiring, and acting that could be brought to bear on these tricky and slippery complexes of problems. 

Each of the attempts to deal with today’s wicked problems grew out of a particular worldview, a particular set of assumptions about how the world works – a particular paradigm. A paradigm is usually taken for granted and treated as common sense, that is, our familiar grasp of life, our ordinary way of making sense of things. A particular paradigm, a particular manner of approaching life or understanding a situation or assessing an organization, opens up particular possibilities for perceiving, thinking, organizing, and acting, but also closes off other possibilities. This discounting of certain factors or concepts is part of the basic rules of the game, one of our taken-for-granted operating assumptions. What we need, in order to deal with today’s wicked problems, is another way of looking at our situation, a new map of reality, an alternative paradigm.
Lesson (2)
A multiplicity of perspectives can be helpful to a leader who must deal with complexity.

Our view on human nature matters because assumptions we have about other people shape our behavior, and the way we tend to design and run organizations. If you believe in the existence of command-and-control humans, then command-and-control systems design will follow. In order to build complexity-robust organization, a shared, enlightened and refined view of human nature is needed.
Lesson (3)
We need considerate leaders – who transcend their fears of vulnerability, who are not looking for new ways to protect themselves, who are acting in service of the whole, not in their own interest. The considerate state of awareness can be described as an open, available, attentive presence to what is going on both internally and externally, involving a loss of rigid self-definition. That is courage – rending (‘cuer age’) of the heart.

The considerate leader adopts a stance of openness and detachment, which both are manifest in a variety of forms – this includes an attitude of receptivity in which one initially encounters situations with as much openness and as little judgement as possible. A second aspect of openness and detachment is the letting go that can be characterized as maintaining a loose grip, or an attitude of being responsible in a situation without having to control all aspects of it. This requires a stance of listening and watching, without getting entangled in an attempt to fix anything.
Lesson (4)
The concept of letting go or letting be, of not having to be in control, is at the heart of the considerate paradigm, and contrasts sharply with the dominant paradigm.

Understood correctly, leadership in complexity means working the system, not the people.
It has less to do with the personality of the individual leader, and more with leadership as a social process. It makes leadership more challenging, as it responds to the fact that learning and development are not trivial, but rather complex by nature. Leadership in this sense operates by influencing people and their (dynamic) contexts, systematically, taking into account human individuality, meaning creating structures and value(s). Thus, leadership is becoming more and more a systems capability.
Lesson (5)
Relationships are the currency of true leadership. Therefore, engaging authentically with people around them is the first task of genuine leadership due to the trust that it builds.
Leaders who can establish a meaningful connection with employees and other stakeholders will ultimately exert greater influence than those who can’t.

Misled; 11 Lies About Leadership is nót the next ‘How to…’ book, nor a Ten-Step-Handbook to become a better leader. Thanx for that! This book not only exposes the lies about leadership, it also reflects on the perspectives, offers insights, and ask questions.
In invites the reader to really dig deep into leadership issues and their own position on those issues.

A really valuable book in the pile of new books on management. Read this one, and you can skip a library of books on leadership.

misled - twan van kerkhof

Misled; 11 Lies About Leadership

Twan van de Kerkhof

This book debunks the most important myths and misconceptions about leaders and leadership.

Is there any concept that is surrounded by as much mystique and misunderstanding as leadership? Bookshelves are filled with what has been written about leadership, yet the mystery has not been solved. Twan van de Kerkhof, who previously helped fill the shelves, has taken a completely different approach to better understand leadership. He identifies eleven lies, which do not seem to be nonsense at first sight, and carefully dissects them. He eloquently guides us through such lies as ‘leaders are born’, ‘leaders are rational’, and ‘leaders are greedy’. Fortunately, he also offers clarity on what leadership is and includes insights into how to move forward to be, and stay, an effective leader. A must read for leaders and those who aspire to be leaders.

Leo van de Voort
Board advisor at Fuel for Living Strategies

September 1th, 2023

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