Bad Advice

By Patrick Sanaghan

The term “seduction of the leader” was introduced to me more than 25 years ago by my colleague Rod Napier, who has written a book on the subject. The term describes an insidious leadership dynamic that is played out on campuses across the country.

This form of seduction occurs when presidents and other senior leaders don’t receive honest and thoughtful feedback about the impact of their leadership style or ideas. Followers tend to avoid “telling it like it is” for a variety of reasons. The unfortunate consequence of this dynamic is leaders who are isolated, ill-informed, and often downright clueless.

Followers often have difficulty speaking truth to power, for a wide variety of reasons. Followers may lack either the courage or the skill to approach a president with a negative or contradictory message. They may have excessive respect for the unique role of the president as the representative of “the institution” and all that entails: status, history, and politics. The president may not really be open to differing opinions or the ideas of others — and everyone knows it. There may have been negative consequences when someone was honest and direct with the president, creating a culture of avoidance and reluctance among those who should be providing honest feedback.

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