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  • Writer's pictureMarkus Starmer

Soundbite Leadership. A Growing Scourge

A few days ago, I read a posting on LinkedIn entitled: "Great Leadership Is Defined By Authenticity".

No it's not. What utter nonsense. The sentence doesn't even make sense.

But of course, this sort of clap-trap isn't uncommon on LinkedIn. On any given day, if you were to scour through the data feed, you'd probably find a dozen similarly half-baked assertions, purporting to enlighten us about what leadership is. And one thing I note the statements have in common, is that they're all popular! In fact, it seems to me that the more glib and vacuous the psuedo-wisdom is, the more ‘liking’ admiration it attracts.

Perhaps these soundbite solutions to the things we need to know are merely a reflection of our incessant need to get as much data, as quickly as possible. Perhaps in this Information Age, we can only cope with the short lived (and ultimately unsatisfactory) gratification that such outpourings offer. And perhaps that's O.K. for a site like LinkedIn.

But sadly, this hollow approach to understanding a complex subject is not restricted to social media. It is my observation that increasingly within the business world, where leadership development is concerned, the need for effective input is being subsumed by a subversive propensity to allow a blurring of substantive learning with superficial understanding. In what it expects of them, and in what it provides to them, companies are increasingly prepared to endorse ‘soundbite leadership’ from those in important positions.

Businesses are accepting, or even positively embracing, shortcut methodologies to deliver development, wherein (like LinkedIn postings) short bursts of theoretical input, heavily laced with platitudinous aphorisms, are substituted for an exploration of the true substance of the skill set a real leader requires.

The all too evident risk is that we are creating an alarmingly growing tier of apparently well-trained managers, who are great with fast come backs and populist 'motivational statements', but fail to deliver to those who they are supposed to be leading what it is they really want and need: somebody who's actually worth following.

The trend is a scourge in all walks of life where we might wish to experience real leadership. Most noticeably, in the political arena, something very similar has already overtaken common sense, to the point where those holding the highest offices are a travesty. They are caricatures of the leaders they should be, or that we need them to be.

It's a choice whether or not we in the business world accept this, and allow it to happen. Surely it is obvious that the adoption of slick delivery and empty rhetoric, cannot be a substitute for thoughtful, reasoned actions? We cannot allow ourselves to be seduced by the naïve belief that there are quick, easy fixes to evolving into leaders. And neither should businesses short-change any of their stakeholders by tolerating, or worse still, encouraging soundbite leadership.

Yet the problem is, it's already happening…

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