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Leadership Angst & Airport Bookstores

David Burkus, our guest blogger today, is the author of The Portable Guide to Leading Organizations and the editor of LeaderLab, a community of resources dedicated to promoting the practice of leadership theory. He is a consultant, a speaker and an adjunct professor of business at several universities. He can be reached at [email protected]

Airport bookstores are crowded with books on leadership, and each one seems to promote a “leadership lack.” They’ll each begin with phrases like “The most pressing issue in organizations is that leaders lack integrity…or empathy…or strategy…or even humor.” These books continue by laying out the author’s simple framework for developing the perfect leader. On and on the dialogue goes to the point where readers become be confused because the 21 Unassailable Edicts of Leadership are different than the Seven Routines of Really Efficient Leaders. It would be a poor move to add to this confusion. With this in mind, we will admit that we do not believe our “leadership lack” to be the most pressing issue in organizations, just the easiest to fix.

Leaders lack an understanding of leadership theory.

These airport leadership books provide decent advice that is easily digestible. And because it is easily digestible, leaders continue to gorge themselves on it until there is very little room left for real, solid theory. Most see theory as complex and hard to digest. When leaders think about leadership or organizational theory, they think back to the 400+ page textbook they had to buy in business school. “Seems like quite an undertaking,” leaders think. So they cheerfully hand their money to the cashier and board the plane with the latest, pocket-sized “leadership” book.

Leaders lack an understanding of leadership theory because it isn’t presented in pocket-sized form.

But leadership theory isn’t some kind of rocket surgery. Attaining a true understanding of theory isn’t difficult, if it’s presented right. We’ll survey the major leadership theories. Our intent is to present them in the same easily digestible, pocket-sized form as the airport bestsellers.

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