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The Human Condition: Revisiting Leadership as a Moral Concept


Title: The Human Condition: Revisiting Leadership as a Moral Concept


Barbara Kellerman, in her seminal work, "Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters" (2004), provocatively asserted that "leadership is not a moral concept." This declaration draws us away from the conventional narrative that portrays leadership as a virtue-driven position tied inherently to ethics and morality. Kellerman's assertion is a stern reminder of leadership's multidimensional and complex reality and the need to view leaders as individuals embedded within the spectrum of the human condition.


Like the rest of us, leaders embody a gamut of attributes - from trustworthiness to deceit, courage to cowardice, generosity to greed. As Kellerman underlines, they are not above or beyond human frailties and moral ambiguities. Her statement disrupts the romanticized perception of leadership that frequently portrays leaders as exemplars of ethical standards and instead brings them back into human fallibility.


The assumptions that leaders are inherently excellent or virtuous form a romantic and potentially dangerous narrative. This ''halo effect'' around leadership can lead to wilful blindness, a conscious or unconscious ignorance of a leader'sleader's shortcomings or unethical behaviors. It could result in followers ignoring or normalizing actions that would otherwise be deemed unacceptable.


This perceptual bias could also obscure the follower's followers understanding of effective leadership. By understanding leaders as mere mortals with the same ethical and moral challenges, we allow ourselves a more realistic perspective to understand leadership and what it truly entails.


Realizing that leaders are susceptible to the same moral and ethical dilemmas as any other individual is the first step towards cultivating more effective leadership. It opens up opportunities for more robust accountability measures, inspiring leaders to seek moral growth and ethical development. This perspective also fosters empathy, which helps us to understand better the challenges leaders face in their decision-making processes.


Kellerman's assertion underscores the need to balance the admiration and reverence often accorded to leaders with a keen awareness of their human shortcomings. The knowledge that leaders are not inherently good or evil but are a complex blend of both offers a fresh perspective to explore and improve our understanding of leadership.


In conclusion, Kellerman's perspective on leadership calls for scholars to delve deeper into the complex dynamics of leadership, considering not only the strengths and virtues of leaders but also their weaknesses and vices. Only by acknowledging the full range of the human condition can we approach leadership in a comprehensive, realistic, and ultimately more effective manner. This holistic perspective will enable us to navigate the intricate and often challenging terrain of leadership and, in the process, become better leaders ourselves.

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