Leadership ability, it would seem, is the essential ingredient of success. But is it? Academies and institutes, high schools and colleges, MBA programs and charter schools all promote their ability to train 21st century leaders. High school seniors applying for college using the Common Application are instructed to include details about the “position/leadership” they hold as a part of their extracurricular activities. The celebration of leadership has become so routine that an educator at a California preschool was heard prompting a 5-year-old to “use her leadership voice.”
“The term has become so ubiquitous that it has lost its meaning,” said Ira Chaleff. He is a student of what his colleague, Harvard professor Barbara Kellerman, calls the “leadership industry,” as well as an author on the critical value of following. His most recent book, “Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told To Do Is Wrong,” explores why citizens, including young students, need to understand effective “followership,” which requires both supporting leaders’ good ideas and questioning or even resisting their bad ones. He says there are some unintended consequences of our cultural fixation on leadership and there are some ways schools and teachers can do help address them.