Leadership is not what you think it is... and it never was.
Leadership has long been intertwined with myth. The Greek biographer Plutarch wrote his Parallel Lives to describe how pairs of leaders from the classical world— from Theseus and Romulus, to Demetrius and Mark Antony—exercised virtue. Ever since, Plutarch’s Lives has served as the definitive book for leaders throughout the ages to reflect on leadership, action and virtue.
In Leaders: Myth and Reality, General McChrystal and his coauthors borrow Plutarch’s approach – but instead of examining virtue, they study leadership through the lens of thirteen fascinating men and women who have led in different times and circumstances:
- Robert E. Lee
- Founders: Walt Disney and Coco Chanel
- Geniuses: Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein
- Zealots: Maximilien Robespierre and Abu Musab al Zarqawi
- Heroes: Zheng He and Harriet Tubman
- Powerbrokers: Boss Tweed and Margaret Thatcher
- Reformers: Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Through their stories, the reader comes to see leadership in a new light, wherein stubborn mythologies surround the concept of leadership, leaving us with a disconnect between how we typically think about leadership and how it actually works.
Leaders draws out the stories of these characters to elucidate deeper truths about the contingency and complexity of leadership. By the end of the book, readers will think differently about leadership. They will take a step back from the mythology, more accepting of leadership for what it is, rather than what we wish it to be. Seeing leadership through this new lens has implications for the way society understands its own history, and what it seeks from its leaders of tomorrow. Leaders are indeed important, just not in the way we think they are.
For those who enjoy intriguing history, or leaders and followers who wish to see leadership more clearly, or anyone looking to elevate the conversation about leadership today, Leaders is a timely and entertaining book.