Top Leadership Gurus

Wow. I just googled top leadership experts and got this link, Top Leadership Gurus.  Do you notice any patterns in the list?

First, the list was predominantly US driven.  Kind of ignoring the whole globalization thing. Second, there were two people of colour and one woman on the top 25 in the list. In other words, mostly old, American, white guys. Third, very few of these experts rely on solid research. If you rely on their advice, you are relying on opinion and beliefs that are based on personal experience. There’s nothing wrong with personal experience, but it can contain significant bias.

For example, many research “gurus” believe that courage is an important aspect of leadership. However, research suggests that at least some of the time, courage can lead to failed leadership, not successful leadership. We’d all like to think that it is important to have a courageous leader, but that is what we’d like, not necessarily the reality of organizational life.

The lack of women, visible minorities and cultures outside of the US on this list suggests to me a couple of things.  First, that we’re still using old models of leader, white, male and hero driven. Second, that we still see these old white guys as having a monopoly on the discussion of leadership. In other words, we’re letting old white guys define what leadership is. I resent this as an old white girl.

We also need to push past the opinion based conversation we’ve been having into a more evidence based view of leadership. We make far too many assumptions about the nature of leadership that have not been tested.

Let’s stop listening to the so called gurus, and start asking for the evidence.


8 replies »

  1. I certainly wouldn’t argue with the lack of diversity in the list. But I don’t understand your logic on what “research” has to do with leadership. I’m far more inclined to follow a leader with a track record. I’m more interested in what they have done than what they know.

    For that reason, I’d personally have guys like Welch, Hyatt and Collins at the top because they ARE leaders.

    Another interesting thing about this list is how many of these leaders have a significant faith-base in their leadership models.

    • First, the reason that I believe in research on the topic of leadership is that we hold a lot of assumptions about leadership, but we rarely test those assumptions. Research tests assumptions. My point was that a lot of the time we would like to think our leaders are “courageous” or “have integrity”, but often, even the successful leaders do not have these attributes.

      The problem using track records of leaders is that those records don’t really tell you much about how to become a leader yourself. You are a different person, with different experiences in different situations.

      In terms of your commend on “faith-based” leadership models, while I agree that many on the list are faith-based, this may have more to do with the fact that the list is primarily American, where faith based models are more dominant. If you were to come to Canada or Europe or Asia, you would not see this faith based approach to leadership. There is a huge cultural component to how we view an effective leader.

      Thanks for your input Bart,

    • I really like old white guys. I’ve dated a few! My only point is that we consistently overlook the leadership contributions of women, visible minorities and those outside of the US. We’ve got to stop looking to “experts” or “gurus” for our leadership direction and start looking to the evidence to see what behaviours, skills and attributes work in leadership.

    • Thanks for the report. After a quick glance I can see that it offers a lot of good questions for leaders, followers and organizations.


  2. It would seem a lot of opinion, assumption and biases came flooding into this blog. Bad hair day? I heard that!
    I don’t think you are going to find any evidence of successful leadership that will be of much value to YOU! You can learn what has been done before successfully and unsuccessfully. That won’t make you a successful leader. Only YOU can make you a successful leader and the gurus will expound your virtues and write the book of your success “After The Fact”.
    The truth hides somewhere between guts and accomplishment. You aren’t going to be a leader if you haven’t got the guts to make that first move. If you accomplish what you set out to do it’s because you had a little knowledge, intuition, luck and the courage to be in the right place at the right time. A decade before or a decade later and you’d be toast. Just another wanna-be.
    So if you’re taking a slap at the “Old White Guys” it’s only because you don’t have the guts to make that first move and the only way you can discredit success is to be a bigot.
    The only evidence you’ll find is in the success of those that made it. Their evidence is based on their experience, a little knowledge, intuition, luck and courage. Even more interesting is that you’ll find commonalities and major differences. The only magic formula is you and how you put it together or don’t.
    It’s unfortunate that a list of old white guys offends you. Do something about it – make a list of “NOT old white guys” and publish it – be a leader instead of a whiner.
    Note* Said with the greatest of affection – you P’ed off an old white guy!

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