The public long has lamented the state of “leadership” in America, referring often to a deficit in political or business leadership. Scandals like the ones with Bernie Madoff and David Petraeus year after year confirm our sense that we should find better leaders. The question is, how best to do so?
When we conflate ethical leadership with ethical leaders, we spend too much time bemoaning the fact that our leaders aren’t all really good people. Instead, we need to spend more time looking at whether we have good norms for choosing our leaders and holding them accountable, and good processes from which leadership emerges and functions ethically.
It’s time for those of us who teach and write about leadership explicitly to acknowledge the essential difference between studying leaders and studying leadership.