Skip to content

Leaders: Myth and Reality – Book Review


I have always been drawn to reading and learning more about effective leadership, and at some level I have come to realize that it is challenging and perhaps limiting to try to define leadership. And if not limiting, it is a bit naïve to attribute a set of defined characteristics to leadership.

In their book, “Leaders: Myth and Reality,” the authors describe “leadership” as a “famously difficult term to define.” Leadership expert Joseph Rost has found 221 definitions of leadership in 587 examined publications. Most people think of leadership as the process of influencing a group toward some defined outcome. However, that’s where the authors cite the root cause of the mythology of leadership: its relentless focus on the leader.

In their book, the authors feature an eclectic array of 13 leaders across history and spend a lot of time examining and explaining the importance of timing, context, and the individuals around the senior leader. The myth of leadership often exaggerates the role and the impact that leaders have played in influencing events and history. The stories often look past their humanity and glorify them as something more powerful than they really were – sometimes larger than life.

The variety of leaders studied is both interesting and surprising, ranging from Robert E. Lee to Harriet Tubman, and includes such iconic leaders as Walt Disney and Margaret Thatcher, as well as a few zealots. The book studies six pairs of leaders; Lee gets his own chapter, looking at entrepreneurialism and ego, genius, conviction, the need for heroes, power and reform.

Clearly there is no single style of leadership that guarantees success, and the combination of context and followers has a great deal to do with the reality of what the leaders actually accomplish. However, as we teach in LeadFORWARD, our yearlong transformation leadership journey, the ability to recognize context along with the agility to adapt your style to what is needed is something that serves all leaders well.

The situational nature of leadership requires a level of humility and ambition and continuous learning that enables leaders and their teams to rise to the occasion they are being called to.


Posted in

Leave a Comment