Good leaders aren’t always good

There have recently been some blog posts around the the ‘ethics of leaders’. You know the kind of thing – ‘Genghis Khan was a great leader who did bad things because he had dodgy ethics and an under developed set of personal values. Gandhi/King/Teresa on the other hand were great leaders with top values and look at what they got done’. Miki Saxon over at Leadership Turn gives a nice example of the genre.

I think this overlooks the roles of choice and context in the triumph of ‘good’ or ‘evil’. It also underplays the power of the follower in enabling leaders to succeed.

Because followers are largely influenced, rather than controlled, they have to make choices. The choices they make are influenced by their context.

Hitler, Gandhi, King and Khan, just like Mr Smith in the post-room, can only lead effectively when the choices they provide resonate in some way with the context and perceptions of followers. Without this resonance between follower and leader nothing much happens. So it is too simple to say that Genghis Khan was just an unfortunate combination of ‘bad man’ and ‘great leadership’. The systems in which great leaders exert so much influence has to be right for them to succeed. Churchill was a successful leader in war time but a bit of flop during the peace. It was not Churchill that changed – but the context in which he led.

What sort of leader would really make a difference in this organisation?

What kind of leadership are you ready to resonate with?

What about your followers?

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One Response

  1. Mike, I think we’re actually saying the same thing, that no one can be forced to follow. What I’ve been pointing out in a number of posts is that the labels “good,” “bad,” etc. aren’t cast in stone, but are ever changing and that just because someone can lead, doesn’t make them “good.’ I said,
    “You need to recognize that
    • leaders are not by definition “good;”
    • they aren’t always positive role models;
    • one person’s “good” leader is another person’s demon; and that
    • there are always at least two sides to any subject or person.
    It’s up to you to choose the one that “fits” you best.”

    Although millions consider Hitler to be “evil,” the neo-fascist movement is alive and well, proving, as you point out, that they still resonate.

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