100,000+ Books on Leadership, Why Aren’t There More Leaders?

A former colleague that I admire and respect proposed writing a leadership book together. One of the first things I did was scan what was already out there.

To my surprise, a basic “leadership” search on Amazon.com resulted in over 100,000 titles. While I admit my blog post title is presumptive (maybe there are more leaders), I know I’m not alone in skeptically questioning if the sheer volume of books, corporate leadership programs and training has generated a material increase in the number or quality of leaders. I don’t think it has. The following is some food for thought about why not.

Leadership is subjective

It will likely remain so because:

  1. Those running corporate leadership programs and writing books don’t formally benchmark and measure whether their offering increased leadership quality or the number of leaders.
  2. Corporate leadership programs really only focus on, well, those already identified as “leaders,” thus not really resulting in more leaders. Hiring, selection and promotion processes (or lack thereof) actually do more to drive the number of leaders but are often fraught with other subjective selection criteria like existing relationships and “brand” within the company.
  3. The very definition of “leader” is subjective and always changing, probably explaining the lack of measurement. There is also no formal or chief body that governs leadership criteria.

However, I think we can all agree, just the vast numbers of books and money spent by corporations over the last 20-30 years is a direct sign of leadership’s importance and demand. All of us writing these books see a huge gap because we know that having strong and more leaders is very important, if not the most important ingredient to a thriving organization. But have we got it all wrong?

The truth is, you’re already a leader

The basic premise of any leadership book or program is, “These are the traits or this is the model for leadership. Do these things and you’ll become a better leader.” In other words, unless you’re doing these things, I guess you’re not leading.

I’d like to see people just spend more time being themselves.

In my experience and from watching others, it seems until you find your voice and dig deep about what you stand for, you’ll be that empty paper bag blowing wherever the wind happens to take you. People who know themselves well enough to comfortably express who they are, in fact, are leading, especially in the numbing, soul-crushing work environment that exists today. And it is from that solid foundation you can add tactical traits recommended in X,Y,Z book on leadership.

“Turn and face the strain, ch-ch-changes”

That classic, catchy David Bowie song rings true for leadership: the advice from books and courses by saying, “become this or do more of this” might change tomorrow. Thus, instead of chasing the latest leadership trend, chase you: where are you going and what’s getting in your way?

And then ask yourself this question over and over because a thousand things change everyday, and so will you.

Keep it simple

Sometimes certain books and leadership programs can have a profound impact, or give someone a small insight that fits today. That’s great, but in many cases, they end up being overwhelming and not applicable to one’s current job.

Trying focusing on one simple reflective question at a time or concept from a book/program and build on it. For example, ask yourself each day, “In this job, with this team, in this meeting, how can I lead today?” Listen for the ideas that come, they might surprise you!

The moral of story: Instead of relying on books and leadership programs to develop more leaders, we should just become ourselves. The leadership should follow.

Course, you’ll want to read our book when it’s out. Don’t worry, we won’t ask you to become something you’re not. You’re a leader already.

Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

-David Bowie, Changes

  1. Spot on. Like your reference to one of the greatest musicians ever. Thanks!

    Reply

    1. Thank you! That song came into my head while writing this piece, so in it went!

      Reply

  2. When it comes to attempts to “foster leadership”, the closer you look at it the more it becomes apparent we have a long way to go.

    Reply

    1. However when it comes to talking and writing about fostering leadership for fun and profit – things are going great. Paraphrasing Paul Simon’s great line from “Can’t Run But”: “The [leadership] suffers, the [leadership] business thrives”.

      Reply

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