The Vulnerability of leadership

Those who have followed my work will know I believe we need to build a strong body of knowledge to enable us to understand the experience of leaders’ learning. Not what we think leaders ought to be learning – but how they actually do. And this is also the theme of my  doctoral research programme.

Don’t we know enough about leaders’ learning through the hundreds of thousands of political, business and other autobiographies?  Well they might give us a clue – but are these books an investigation into the authors’ learning experiences or are they a review of their successes and, hopefully, failures? Those are two very different views.

We also have hundreds of books telling us how leaders ought to learn or what makes a good leader; but these are rarely if ever based on the first hand experience of what leaders are going through now. Before you tell me what a good leader is, it might be wise to listen closely to what leaders are actually experiencing in the field.

Both my practice and my research programme have been designed to:

  • understand the first hand experiences of top leaders –and their successors; both through my own practice and through the group of top leaders working with me in my research
  • ensure that we build up a solid body of validated and scientifically documented evidence of these experiences
  • apply this knowledge for the benefit of leaders and their constituencies, be those constituencies organizations, institutions or countries.

The Vulnerability of Leaders

What have I learned about leadership in my 40 years in corporate life – as producer, then leader and now as mentor and coach?

That leaders and leadership are immensely vulnerable. Vulnerable to the pressures and delusions that both they and we impose on them:

  • to thinking that they are responsible for everything
  • to thinking that they have authority for everything
  • to being over protected and cut off
  • to being over criticized and isolated
  • to believing they should have all the answers
  • to believing they do have all the answers
  • to feeling they have no space to learn
  • to feeling they have no need to learn
  • to seeing themselves as invulnerable and all powerful
  • to being seen as invulnerable and therefore ‘fair game’.

Each one of these paradigms can help turn an open democratic University President into a besieged, defensive, secretive tyrant. Or a rational, confident CEO into an indecisive ditherer.

The LeaderNet

Leadership is not a person or even a small vanguard; it is a network of relationships that is constantly in play within and around an institution or environment. Without a product, market, work force, suppliers or structure there is no organization. And without an organization there is no leader. That leader is – and must be – in constant relationship with the network that links him to his stakeholders.

And that’s – essentially- what I do: I work with top leaders and their successors to make sure that they build, balance and sustain that network – their LeaderNet: to keep them and their organizations, strong, open and successful.

If these thoughts resonate a little with you, please get in touch.  Whether you think we can work together or you simply want to discuss or challenge what I say, please contact me at