On the Ground 7

On the topic of leadership, compare these:

First, the Peter Northouse book, which I am using as a text and which takes as its first line, “Leadership is a highly sought-after and highly valued commodity.” He marches through ten or twelve theories or approaches to leadership. We learn about “transactional”, “authentic”, “situational,” “transformational,” “path-goal,” “member-leader exchange theory,” etc etc. He notes that several of these approaches to leadership are now available as executive training packages.

You do not learn how to lead from this book. Instead, you learn about research about leadership. Northouse names researchers, lists elements of each approach, offers case studies, balances strengths and criticisms and provides a self-assessment tool at the end of each chapter. After reading this book, you are no longer a virgin with regards to leadership training packages.

Compare this with Si Kahn’s book Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders, published in 1991 (revised off the 1981 edition) by the National Association of Social Workers. This is really good stuff. You could really learn something about leadership and organizing from this book. It is written like a real conversation with serious people who are asking real questions. This is the book our students need, not Northouse.

But then tonight, coincidentally, Joe and I succumbed to watching Netflix, which we can do because I got one of those VPNs that make it look as if I’m logging in from Los Angeles. We watched Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhall figures out how to make living by photographing bloody nighttime crimes and accidents, some of which he arranges, for the TV morning news. His sociopathology is that he appears to have learned how to relate to people from an executive leadership training course, like the ones in the Northouse book. He is like an executive leadership training package gone zombie.

What this tells me is that this lingo, with all its idioms and tropes, is so recognizable that it can carry the whole weight of a character in a movie. It has been so discredited that it can stand alone as a form of insanity.

I don’t think the evolution of that lingo into a sign of insanity would survive translation. I think it tells us something about the US, though.