Guest post by Al Gini and Ronald M. Green
As a species, we are fascinated by the concept of leadership and the conduct of individual leaders. But while we are enthralled by leaders, we are sometimes uneasy in regard to our relationship to them. We alternatively love them, hate them, desire them, despise them, seek them out, shun them. Yet, despite our confusion, we are constantly in search of the latest candidate for fame, the newest model off the assembly line, the next great hope.
Today we accord movie star status to many of our leaders. Some of them become national icons and cultural role models. For example, the president of the United States is, arguably, the most photographed person in the world. Barack Obama’s first inauguration was the most reported event of its time. Former President Bill Clinton is a celebrity. The media have tracked every turn in the life of business leaders like Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs. Where once saints dominated our imagination and were looked to for guidance, political and business leaders now play that role.
Why is leadership such a fascinating topic? Why are we so enthralled by leadership and curious about the private and public lives of leaders? Anthropologist Joseph Campbell argues that all cultures, all societies, and, by extension, all organizations (political or otherwise) are engaged in a “hero quest.” All cultures search for a unique, larger-than-life, gifted person or for a singular idea, belief, or iconic symbol that helps to organize, explain, and give meaning, purpose, and direction to life. Where once it was saints or royals who performed the hero role, today it is our political, business, or cultural icons.
Campbell believes that the “hero quest” is in effect a “leadership quest.” The hero, like the leader, imposes order, offers a moral compass, and defines the geography of life for everyone. For Campbell, leadership and the quest for a leader are anthropological constants, necessary conditions for collective/communal existence. According to Barbara Kellerman of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, putting aside the notion of type (democratic or despotic) and effectiveness (successful or unsuccessful) of a particular leader, our collective fascination with and pursuit of a champion on a white horse are part of who we are.
Ronald M. Green, Ph.D. Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, Dartmouth College. A member of Dartmouth’s Religion Department since 1969, Professor Green served from 1992-2011 as director of Dartmouth’s Ethics Institute. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Brown University and received his PhD in religious ethics from Harvard in 1973. In 1996 and 1997, Prof. Green served as Director of the Office of Genome Ethics at the National Institutes of Health. He is the author of eight books, co-author or editor of four, and has published over one hundred fifty articles in theoretical and applied ethics. In 2005, Prof. Green was named a Guggenheim Fellow. His most recent book is 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders: Leadership and Character, co-authored with Al Gini of Loyola University, Chicago
Al Gini is a Professor of Business Ethics and Chair of the Department of Management in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago. He is also the co-founder and long-time Associate Editor of Business Ethics Quarterly, the journal of the Society for Business Ethics. For over twenty-six years he has been the Resident Philosopher on National Public Radio’s Chicago affiliate, WBEZ- FM. His books include: My Job My Self: Work and the Creation of the Modern Individual (Routledge, 2000); The Importance of Being Lazy: In Praise of Play, Leisure and Vacations (Routledge, 2003); Why It’s Hard to Be Good (Routledge, 2006); Seeking The Truth of Things (ACTA, 2010); The Ethics of Business with Alexei Marcoux (Rowan & Littlefield, 2012). 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders (Riley & Blackwell, 2013).
The Product Management Perspective: Product managers can and should play a key role in the “leadership quest.” Be the hero to the people you work with.