Despite the diversity of business and social cultures around the world, we continue to teach and take part in a “one size fits all” approach to leadership development. The author here discusses why this approach is fundamentally flawed, arguing that leadership is socially constructed, contextual, and culturally contingent.
Within the domain of executive education, the concept of leadership development is an increasingly romanticised one. When we say ‘leadership development,’ more often than not, images of executive travel, luxury retreats, world class ‘experts’ delivering ‘high-end management interventions’ spring to mind, with management gurus flown across the globe to impart knowledge on organisational transformation.
But the accepted approach taught in the majority of these standardised executive leadership development programmes across the globe fails to address one important issue: business and social culture around the world is diverse, and therefore a universal ‘one size fits all’ approach is flawed as it ignores two fundamental truths which empirical research brings to light.
Firstly, a universal approach glosses over the fact that leadership is first and foremost a social construct rather than a purely scientific phenomenon. Leadership ‘knowledge’ is constructed in the context of human interactions – leadership is, after all, about ‘leading people.’ Human beings are not static or isolated, but rather they can be seen as social actors, entrenched in a dynamic and interwoven social reality within which they base their perceptions, actions, interactions, and sense of meaning. Therefore whatever knowledge we might have about leadership has been developed within a wider framework of human interaction, which will be diverse across different cultures around the world.