Any internet search of “leadership quotes” will invariably produce quotes that reflect the idea that leadership is about making a difference.

From “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -- John Quincy Adams

From "You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand." -- Woodrow Wilson

From “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been." -- Henry Kissinger

But if leading is about making a difference, why does so much of leadership development focus on creating “sameness”.

In her book, the End of Leadership, Barbara Kellerman, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, makes the observation that for all of the billions of dollars spent on leadership each year, we are no better off.

She asserts that the problem is at least partly due to “mistaken assumptions,” one of which is that “one form of leadership can be taught, simultaneously, to different people in different situations.”

An internet search of “the principles of leadership” seems to support her assertion. The ensuing results include article titles like “10 Principles of Effective and Authentic Leadership”, “The 10 Most Important Principles of Leadership”, and “8 Principles Every Leader Should Know”. These titles represent the continuing effort to spread the gospel of “tried and true” leadership methods.

An era in which information is shared quickly and easily combined with the proliferation of material on how to be a good leader should produce more great leaders not fewer. But, according to Dr. Kellerman, that does not appear to be the case.

That’s because leaders can only make a difference when they are different.

As author and business leader, Orrin Woodward is quoted as saying: “You can't make a difference until you dare to be different.”

I will say more about being different in my next blog post.