The Death of Leadership

Last year this time, in a conversation with one of my colleagues, I asked, “If we’re so damned good with coaching leaders, why do we see so many examples of poor leadership? Is leadership dead? Perhaps it was a fad and we should just stop talking about it.”

The future arrived in January. All of a sudden, all the things we thought might happen in the future were suddenly a reality: reshuffling of business priorities, remote working, new uses for AI and robotics, reordering of the economy. Our country wasn’t ready, and we weren’t ready. 

In January, we thought if we shut down things and stayed home for two or three weeks, the virus scare would pass and we’d all be done with it. Now, eight months and counting into the pandemic, we are still struggling to get a grip on things. And getting a grip is difficult when our proliferation of information sources gives us scatter shots of conflicting information. Yet, even the best and truest sources give us an evolving story because we are constantly learning more about this covid-19 virus. In the face of this, information has become politicized, with some people complying and others defying recommended guidelines for protecting public health. 

When the world is chaotic, leadership becomes critical. When people are confused, scared and perhaps depressed, someone needs to provide hope. Someone needs to point the way. Someone needs to boost people’s morale. Someone has to help solve the problems. That someone is a leader.

The pandemic has reminded us that the people who get appointed to leadership positions are too often not capable of meeting the challenges they face. They fail the leadership test. In these times, like so many others, leaders emerge to meet the needs, sometime in the form of someone we never thought of as a leader. These emergent leaders may have been there all along, but were invisible until an opportunity came along. They step forward to accept responsibility, show courage, set direction, and help others do their jobs. They listen, show empathy, help organize the work, and help meet customer needs. They promote teamwork and good communication. And they provide good feedback to their teammates. 

With the challenges this pandemic has brought us, perhaps I was wrong last year. Leadership is not dead, it was just sleeping, ready to be awakened by extreme challenges.

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