We are often led to believe that leadership is necessarily associated with heroism, and heroism with struggle. Lists of must-read books on leadership often include the following:
- Sun Tzu’s military manual, The Art of War
- (Legendary USC basketball coach) John Wooden’s Wooden on Leadership, whose stated goal is “competitive greatness”
- Stephen Mansfield’s Never Give In, which emphasizes Winston Churchill’s wartime daring
- Stephen McDowell’s Apostle of Liberty, about George Washington’s “world-changing leadership”
- Alfred Lansing’s Experience, which describes Ernest Shackleton’s year-long survival on Antarctic sea.
- Robert Greene’s The 33 Strategies of War, which (as Amazon put it) “provides all the psychological ammunition you need to overcome patterns of failure and forever gain the upper hand”
In addition, most of the movies commonly recommended as lessons in leadership are stories of heroism in war (Twelve O’clock High, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Paths of Glory) or in championship sports (We Are Marshall, Invictus, Remember the Titans). We would like to question three premises that appear to be built into such examples.
- That leadership is about winning
- That leadership is an ongoing battle
- That leadership involves facing acute or extraordinary (i.e., “high stakes”) situations