Barry Posner: Leadership is not a fad. It never goes out of fashion. There’s not a sense that somehow there’s a year for leadership, and then we focus on something else. Leadership always has been and will be, because we know that leaders make the difference—for better and worse. So there’s always been this interest in trying to figure out what makes effective leaders. And what we’ve found in the 1980s is the same as in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010 and so on. And the answer has been the same whether we’ve asked the questions in the United States or Europe or Asia, or we’ve asked it to millennials or to senior citizens.
Jim Kouzes: That’s one of the more surprising things, despite all the changes. There’s nothing new, magical, that’s emerged that we’ve said, “Wow, this is the silver bullet.”
What is it about the fifth edition that’s new and different from the previous four?
Barry Posner: It’s much more prescriptive than descriptive. After writing five editions, we’ve gotten more and more confident about what we think the truth is and the important levers are. So in this book, we write directly to the reader—you are reading this book because you want to be a better leader and here’s what you need to do to accomplish that.
Jim Kouzes: And what has been different, of course, is context. And context changes all the time.
You bring up context, and social media has drastically altered the context. How has technology changed the way we lead?
Jim Kouzes: To use an analogy, while technology has improved the game of tennis—there are better rackets, better strings, new polymers they use can whip the ball faster—the fundamentals of playing a good game of tennis have been around since the beginning of tennis. You have got to be able to serve it, have a ground stroke, have a backhand. You have to be able to do some basics.
Barry Posner: Yet I do think that the technology today requires even greater transparency on the part of leaders. And that transparency at the individual level requires greater clarity on the part of the individual. Who am I? Why am I doing what I’m doing? What do I want people to know about what I do? We used to ask people, “Do you want what you’re doing to be reported on the front page of the New York Times?” It’s faster today. Would you want people to tweet what you just did? Because that’s the new reality.
Why do you think the leadership industry has grown so much?
Barry Posner: The cynical side of me says it’s because we’ve seen more bad leadership. Leaders make a difference, and it’s not always positive. And my personal feeling is one of the people who has done the most to fuel that criticism is Scott Adams, author of the comic strip Dilbert. The leadership column that’s read by more people in the world every single day is Dilbert. And it’s all about the disconnect between what people say and what they do, particularly managers. Every single day, you get delivered a Dilbert story. They tricked us again. There’s fraud. There’s missed promises. They blew expectations out of proportion. You don’t have to read the headlines. That’s your daily reminder in the comic strip.