Leadership as the Search for Greater Coherence

January 19, 2015 • LEADERSHIP, Leadership Development, Social Impact, SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS

By Nathan Harter

Literature around leadership is not hard to come by, but there are few texts that examine the process of leadership from where it begins – in the leader’s mind. Below, Nathan Harter analyses how great leaders have embraced the often complex multiplicity of their decisions and so brought coherence to their leadership.

Leadership scholars the world over have bent themselves to conducting empirical studies on how leaders lead. They dig through the historical record for examples from the past, such as Nelson Mandela or Steve Jobs, and they analyse famous leaders in the present, in many domains such as politics and business. They also conduct experiments using social scientific methods to find out what actually happens. This descriptive literature on leadership is growing.

Scholars also weigh in on the purposes of leadership, asking what leadership is for. They join the conversation of ethics about right and wrong, good and bad, going all the way back to antiquity to ponder the perennial questions. In many instances, they zero in on the unique challenges facing those who lead. What makes them blameworthy, if not toxic? This prescriptive literature is also growing.

As a professor of leadership studies, I find myself surrounded by these studies. Some talk about what is done. Others talk about what ought to be done. Yet I never really noticed anyone trying to explain how it is that leaders judge what it is they are supposed to do. How does someone arrive at the conclusion to pursue one course of action, as opposed to any other? It struck me that when trying to teach leadership, I might benefit from understanding that internal process, so that I could help students learn how to do it effectively, consciously.

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