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Mac Carter


You may write off my reaction to your editorial this month as “self-serving”, but I’ll take that risk.

With due respect, I could not disagree with you more regarding your conclusion about leadership development. With a few brief strokes of your “pen”, it seems you have written off the value generated by the entire institution of education and all forms of adult learning in the corporate world. Frankly, it astounds me that you especially have been drawn into supporting such a position.

As someone who has both managed large numbers of people in the corporate world and trained/coached THOUSANDS of corporate managers and executives for more than 25 years, it is my observation, with plenty of empirical evidence and testimonials to support it, that a Socratic method of teaching works just fine for developing and bringing to life exactly the kind of “take a stand” leadership qualities you aspire to see more of in the workplace. Granted, I’m not sure of the value of all of the books and articles, but I do know they contribute by focusing attention on the topic, stimulating different points of view, and encouraging people to experiment.

YES, there is and always will be many examples of a gap between the talk and the walk. We all have war stories and too many examples of failed leadership all around us. Our culture and media have trained us to harshly judge everything and everyone that doesn’t live up to our expectations and deeply entrenched sense of entitlement. But to buy into such broad generalizations like “Leadership cannot be taught”, is so ridiculous to me that it makes you sound silly... and that doesn't fit my experience of you.

Maybe I’m missing something in your message, but to claim that “we don’t need any more content. We don’t need more models. We have all the wisdom we need.” is absurd. If that is true, WHY in the world don’t more people just take a stand for what they believe in? And, how did you develop whatever leadership qualities you claim to have? Do you think you were simply born with those qualities? Have you learned nothing from the educational experiences you have participated in? Did all of your personal growth training experiences amount to NOTHING of value for YOU? I sincerely doubt it.

I’ll bet you, as well as most others in any kind of leadership role, acquired those higher quality traits by emulating good role models, learning how not to do it by watching the not-so-good models, and being stimulated to take risks and step out of your comfort zone in constructive educational programs.

Leadership development is not about putting information INTO people. It is about drawing out of people the realization that they have the strength and the opportunity to be accountable and make a difference in the world they operate in. Without good role models and books that trigger ideas and powerful educational experiences that open you up to new ways of thinking, relating and working, the chance that people will follow your suggestion and just start “acting on what one feels passionately about” is nil, nada... It just won’t happen for most people... Not in our fear-driven culture today.

I’ll stop there. I’ve made my point. I believe the myth worth debunking is the notion that leadership CANNOT BE LEARNED.

Warm Regards,

Mac Carter
Principal & Senior Consultant
Partnering with leaders to create values-based,
performance-driven organizations.

Bellingham, WA 98229
W: (360) 647-5537
Email: [email protected]


Good exchange.

We agree that what’s typically called “leadership training” isn’t really leadership training; it is technique training within a system. Leadership that inspires people doesn’t come from this training. That leadership is the being and doing of the authentic pursuit of a cause that engages others. I do think the so-called “leadership training” does produce the desired effect (systemic productivity), and thus has value to those who pay for it, but it’s real purpose isn’t admirable leadership.

The stronger point of your newsletter is that leadership can’t be taught. Leadership isn’t knowledge or skills but values and traits such as courage of conviction, openness and candor, vitality, willingness to do what’s right, and a larger purpose. I understand the point, but I don’t agree.

I will add that this definition lacks something essential to leadership: followers. I had the epiphany 18 years ago that the attributes of transformational leaders and heroes are fundamentally the same, except that heroes lack followers. Leaders are communicators who engage others to follow, agreed? Can anyone call themselves a leader if no one is following? It appears that leadership is attributional: others declare someone a leader. Or are you saying that having these attributes makes someone a conscious leader, with or without followers?

If someone has many followers and changes the world for the better, but lacks some of these values, what does it mean? What if she isn’t open? Is she a semi-conscious leader? What if a leader doesn’t have a larger purpose, yet the end results are nevertheless great?

How does George Bush stack up vs. Bill Clinton? Why does the answer depend on the political party of the person answering the question?

On the one hand, I can appreciate the desire to qualify leadership with the term “conscious leadership”; on the other hand, it’s too squishy for me. Shouldn’t we be able to measure leadership objectively? Don’t the value judgments cloud, not clarify, the study of leadership? Good (or bad) leadership shouldn’t be a matter of opinion, should it?

Many species such as termites, fish, mice, lions, deer, doves, elephants, monkeys and humans have organized themselves in groups for millions of years. Living in groups increased survival. Harmonious and cooperative groups do better than contentious and chaotic groups. To ignore the evolutionary biology of groups: how they organize, bond, cooperate, and resolve conflict is to ignore reality, and miss the forces that govern leadership and followership.

I am of the opinion, that the study of leadership is a subset of the study of groups, and the reason that business leadership training is less-than-excellent is leadership has little to do with logic. Humans organize themselves primarily through status signals and emotional bonding. Both systems are highly unconscious.

Yet, group behavior and outcomes can be measured, can be objective. For example, does the group grow or stagnate? Increase its resources or diminish them? Can it resolve conflict quickly or does it succumb to infighting? Can it adapt to environmental changes or not? Can it defend itself from attacks or not?

The reality is that when groups prosper, we say they have great leaders, and when they decline, they have bad leaders. This is what I meant when I said that great leaders raise the status of their followers. Mahatma Gandhi raised the status of the India people (in South Africa and then in India). Hitler raised the status of the German people from post-WWI humiliation to a European superpower. Mother Teresa raised the status (dignity) of the poor and sick of Calcutta.

It’s the group outcome that matters, not the values. If you have courage of conviction, openness and candor, vitality, willingness to do what’s right, and a larger purpose, but your group gets wiped out, not too many people are going to sing your praises as a leader. And if you unify China, but kill a few million along the way, people will be writing plays and movies about you (Ying Zheng/ Qin Shi Huangdi) 2000 years later, half-way around the world.

So here’s the one liner that can change the reader’s life:

Effective leadership is figuring out who you serve best (your group) and leading them to higher status (respect, importance, and prosperity).

How is it done? That’s the secret you won’t learn in leadership training.


John Renesch

First, in response to Mac's comments, I could have made a stronger point that not all leadership development programs are the same. I know dozens of people in the business and most of them incorporate a transformative element in their work. So I was remiss in this and apologize for any generalizations I may have made.

The vast majority of programs were the
subject I was challenging or I should say what the people in my article were challenging. George, Heil, Kyle and the authors of Success Built to Last were concluding this nearly simulatenously.

For those helping leaders lead more passionately and consciously and responsibly, I apologize if you felt caught up in the net of any real or implied generalizations I made.

To Michael's last post, I'm not sure I agree to the leader-follower logic you use. I'd like to ponder this some.

Sign of a good dialogue, for me, is when I'm prompted to think deeper or wider about something and these exchanges have the potential for helping us appreciate one another's perspective...so everyone learns something.

David Banner

John...here are my thoughts since I teach an MBA course on leadership development...I agree that leadership theory or even skills training has limited value....that is why I concentrate on developing leader awareness....I use a wonderful 360 degree instrument called THE LEADERSHIP CIRCLE (to help the leader spot shadow elements of their leadership); I also use a journaling process called THE PATHFINDER which allows relfection on leadership effectiveness(or ineffectivess). Finally, I use the Enneagram to illustrate how habits of thought and behavior can sabotage good intentions in leadership.

In other words, I concentrate on the inner game of leadership!

Dr. David K. Banner

John Renesch

Michael, as i re-read your last post, you say "The stronger point of your newsletter is that leadership can’t be taught." I don't think I said that...I certainly didn't mean to. But I would add that it is more like teaching art. There are skills to be learned but there are also ways of being to be encouraged. There is the skill set (the techniques) as well as the spirit of the individual (the person) - the way that person expresses their vision and the passion with which they express it. Much of the leadership development being purchased only focuses on the techniques, the form, and often as you say with the organizational motive to conform to the party line. What's missing as I see it is the encouragement for people to fully express their courage, vision and passions. This could be described as supporting their maximizing their human potential, or a transformational experience.

Several consultants are doing this kind of work. Some of them have been offended by my editorial and let me know about it. I did not mean to include all vendors of this kind of work as stated earlier. The ones I know do have roots in the human potential movement and have developed powerful transforming processes that help the individual transcend their limitations when it comes to powerfuly expressing their leadership.

As for the leader-follower piece I was noodling, there are some people who don't have obvious followers. These might be called thought leaders or revolutionaries of sorts. They have great impact but do not necessarily attract a following but their ideas or values become part of people's conversations, often without realizing the "leader" had anything to do with the idea they are discussing. This occurs in movements, where attribution is foggy at best and people stand on the shoulders of others who influenced them. In organizations, these quiet people are often admired and perhaps even referred to privately but are rarely in formal positions of authority.

I believe there is a movement underway in the world, including in the business community, to transform the way people lead, work and live so the future is more friendly to a sustainable, compassionate human existence. This is what I call conscious leadership and it comes from all over.

This may not yet be as clear as it needs to be so let me know if it is helpful or not.

To David, nice to have you in this dialogue. The "inner game" is the distinction I was making above with Michael. For me it is what is missing with so much of the leadership development work being offered and purchased by the corporations today.

Richard David Hames

Part of the problem seems to me that leadership is most often described in terms of performance. Ove the past 10 years my company has been researching leadership divorced from performance. If anyone is interested in seeing the results this was recently published by Jossey Bass in the UK under the title The Five Literacies of Global Leadership. I believe it sorts through and makes sense of many of the dilemmas raised by these posts.

John Renesch

Richard, to quote the author, "Every year vast sums of money are spent on leadership development based upon the dogma these books promulgate. Yet for all the words, all the talk, and all the resources allocated to the nurturing of leaders and the practice of leadership, very little actually changes. Truly great leaders are still in the minority. Great leadership, it seems, is a vanishing art. Meanwhile the cry for more leaders and better leadership grows stronger." (from your website)

So on this matter you seem to agree. While this isn't true of every single author, every single book, every single workshop, it certainly is a condition people are waking up to.

This is what I meant to address...and I pissed off a few people who were not meant to be included as part of the herd.


Interesting Discourse. The wy i see it, there is the dichotomy of leadership and power within organisations and formal groups. This clouds the issue, since persons in positions are deemed leaders, although they have not been able to get others to willingly commit to their objectives.

Particularly in business, followers tend to give the minimum amount required to exist - to 'coast'. Pretty much its a similar position for the 'leader' - who is more often than not interested in looking good whilst working on the next step in the ladder.

A leader has to engender buy-in; inspire and harness the collective energy of the group - to achieve a certain goal. I see this more in entrepreneurs than 'professional' managers... entrepreneurs can better paint a vision than a manager.

And usually, its the professional managers who attend leadership programmes. I agree with John in that respect. Many persons attend leadership training and 'learn soooo much', but not focus on the people they serve as leaders and how to make it better for them.

For all the training, businesses globally cant yet get people to commit. And thats a leader's problem.

"In a sense, leadership can be likened to a craft where knowledge, skills and practices are of little use unless there is a functional purpose to one's work. However, one who aspires to craft or to lead is at a loss if he/she has a functional purpose but lacks the knowledge, skills or practices to work toward or to achieve that end."

~ Carl D. Glickman (1987) ~

John Renesch

Dear "Faheem"...I clicked on your link above and was immediately taken to a webpage on the Albert Einstein - Bertrand Russell Manifesto, drafted in 1955 (http://panec.blogspot.com/). It was so synchronistic that I forgot about the exchange about leadership development, dazzled by this "coincidence." I do not know what happened but here's the back story:

I am in discussion with Hans-Peter Duerr, a German physicist who co-authored a document in 2005 as a Denkschrift in response to the Manifesto, fifty years later. We are considered co-authoring a book that would be centered around Einstein's concerns about "the way we think".

Are you the one who posted the Manifesto at this webpage?

VERY curious!



Hey John.

i did post same. there are some other postings of speeches / documents i came across in my readings that i thought profound.

very interesting that you are currently considering the very document i posted. I am of late also exploring how people think, especially in relation to their awareness of personal identity, and implications thereof.

your work in this area would be timely indeed, and im sure would also contribute to the progression of humankind, as your other works i have read.

i look forward to your updates on this project.

John Renesch

Faheem, if you would email me at [email protected] I can tell you more about the Manifesto-Denkshrift project with Hans-Peter...offline since it wouldn't necessarily be of interest to others on this blog. That is if you are interested....

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