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The Boston Globe


The myth of the visionary leader

We pine for boldness and charisma—but, say experts, we should vote for something else.

Rapper Kanye West has been making it known recently that there’s a glaring leadership gap in American culture, and he intends to fill it. In one interview, West said he considers himself a successor to Steve Jobs. “I understand culture. I am the nucleus,” he said. Also: “I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things.”

Even people put off by West’s grandiosity recognized the hat he was trying on. In a country where college freshmen fantasize about running the world before they even pick a major, a certain image of leadership—visionary, charismatic, transformational—has become nearly synonymous with ambition. Parents teach “leadership skills” to their kids, while CEOs and gurus write best-selling books with titles like “Strengths Based Leadership.” Our president first won national attention by projecting leadership through his captivating speeches. When Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote a book, “Lean In,” intended to transform professional life for American women, she subtitled it “Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

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