There is something very naïve about the leadership literature.
For more than a year, I have been engaged in a comprehensive review of the academic literature related to the leadership of change. Since there are very few articles that deal specifically with the leadership of change, the job required delving into both the change and leadership literatures. It has been an eye opening experience.
Virtually none of the change literature deals with leadership. It does, however, point out that change is a dynamic process that occurs over time and recognizes that any successful non-trivial change is never the product of a single person. And it is this point which shows the leadership literature is, at best, naïve.
The overwhelming majority of leadership research focuses on a single individual – the “hero” – who is seen as responsible for all outcomes. In many cases, this same “individual logic” is used to explain why change is successful and to propose that certain types of leaders, e.g., transformational leaders, are better at leading change than other types.
Unfortunately, this very same literature treats change as a simple one-time event, not the dynamic and often complex process it is, and ignores how leaders actually go about either facilitating or frustrating change. The implication is that if you get the leader with the right style, it will all work out. Sorry, but that is just plain naïve.
Combining the change literature with the leadership literature indicates significant shortcomings in each. However, the most shocking discovery is that the leadership literature fails to consider the actual process of leading over time and the ways that leaders and followers actually create outcomes together. If we want successful organization change, it is time we give up our hero worship and begin paying attention to leadership interactions over the course of an entire change.