In the next few weeks we will be coming to the end of our review of Professor John Adair’s comments about Managing Leadership. In general, his observations were very positive and were greatly appreciated (to see them in a new window, please click here). In one of those comments, Professor Adair supported Managing Leadership’s criticism of the modern leadership movement by “dismissing the charismatic/transformational stuff as more or less nonsense.” He went on, however, to insist on the importance of individual strategic leadership. Last week, we began a review of Professor Adair’s “Effective Strategic Leadership,” published in 2002, by discussing the book’s design and purpose, and those elements of it that seem to be in agreement or reconcilable with the ideas expressed in Managing Leadership; it might be a good idea, for those who haven’t read that posting, to read it before beginning this one. This week, we will conclude with a discussion of those elements of the book that don’t correspond well with those of Managing Leadership.
There are three principal concerns I have with the approach taken to the topic of leadership in “Effective Strategic Leadership.” These are: 1) the use of examples drawn from study of individual leadership in the military for use in non-military settings, 2) the ascription to individual leaders of extraordinary personal characteristics, and 3) a peculiar habit of defining as “leadership” executive features of management and command.
Fully the first quarter of Chapter 4, “Leadership from the Front,” of Managing Leadership, provides a detailed explanation as to why lessons about individual leadership drawn from military examples are generally inappropriate for application – and even dangerous – in modern organizations. The basic concern is that there is a tendency to apply lessons drawn from such study without taking into account the considerable differences between the military and non-military organizational environments – and the effect these have on how individual leadership from the top is expressed. There are valid lessons to be drawn from study of successful and unsuccessful individual military leadership. But, I argue, much of it actually relates to the character of “command” rather than to leadership, and many of those that do relate to leadership are not appropriate or even applicable outside the military environment.
Professor Adair provides a detailed discussion of military leadership, drawing from examples that go all the way back to classical Greek history, literature, and philosophy. Unfortunately, he uses these explanations and illustrations as stepping stones moving directly to prescriptions for how to provide effective strategic leadership in today’s organizations. There is no discussion of the differing historical, political, and organizational/structural settings in which these examples took place, and how they compare with or differ from those of today, about which he is making his recommendations. There are, however, substantial differences between institutions that operate as vehicles of the will of a prince or a demagogue, and those that arise from the millions of independent decisions of free individuals (in much of the modern world) by means of which they engage in commerce with each other, and order their activities. These differences have a major impact on the legitimacy and sources of strategic leadership applied to these organizations. An inappropriate investigation and application of this can be disastrous. Many of the modern business scandals from which so many are still attempting to recover arose, at bottom, from a failure to properly appreciate and deal with this topic.
Nevertheless, “Effective Strategic Leadership” moves directly from a discussion of extraordinary military leaders to a delineation of the personal characteristics that Professor Adair believes made them so. Chapter 4, “The Role of Strategic Leadership,” presents 3 key characteristics he believes the strategic leader must have. These are intelligence, imagination, and humility. I have explained in great detail, in Managing Leadership, why an organization that depends for its success and future on its senior executive’s intelligence and imagination, rather than those of its members, is in real trouble. Further, if we are to presume that this leader’s intelligence and imagination need to be superior to those possessed by others in the organization, we actually may be approaching a rather eerie, brave new world of organizational design – one that is not practical, not sustainable, and that is, actually, quite inferior.
As for humility, it is described as enabling the leader to learn from others, or to take honest responsibility for failure. While these are noteworthy characteristics, they are no more of value in a “leader” as in anyone else in the organization. In fact, many of the most celebrated successes of individual leadership have arisen specifically from the single-minded absence of humility in the military leader. Moreover, ascribing them in a unique fashion to the leader serves to enfold that leader in a hyperbolic aura of sainthood that separates him or her from the organization, setting in motion a chain of events and shifts in organizational relationships that are, principally, negative. Please see chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Managing Leadership for a thorough discussion of these important topics. For now, we’ll close the discussion, here, by noting that Professor Adair, who resorts frequently to using Field Marshal Montgomery to illustrate the exemplary leader, exhibits a distinct difficulty in using him to discuss the characteristic of humility.
Further complicating these oversights is a general tendency, in “Effective Strategic Leadership,” to confuse “leadership” for management or command. For example, in discussing the importance of encouraging or “motivating” employees, Adair often gives examples of what is really the fundamental managerial function of providing direction to the actions of many people operating collaboratively. In other cases, particularly those involving the military, he actually is showing examples of the establishment of a command presence or environment that acts as a sort of certain trumpet call within the organization. I would argue that the principal nature of this is command, rather than leadership – its expression by the senior executive enables the emergence, and encourages the exhibition, of leadership within the organization by its members, who have been intelligently and effectively rallied around the organizational flag.
As a rule, the assessment in Managing Leadership of Professor Adair’s work, generally, can be applied to “Effective Strategic Leadership.” He provides an excellent model of leadership designed to accomplish organizational tasks. Adair’s leadership has no meaning except in the context of the organization, and in the service of accomplishing its tasks – a fundamentally important feature notably absent from the work of most others who write on the topic. Furthermore, this focus of leadership on organizational tasks imbues his treatment of the otherwise unfortunate discussions of the individual characteristics necessary to leadership. One really cannot go far wrong by studying Professor Adair’s work in the area of leadership, or by reading his “Effective Strategic Leadership.”
Coming up for discussion:
We will complete our review of Professor John Adair’s work in the area of leadership with a review of his book, “The Inspirational Leader.” As always, we will discuss the concepts of this book in their own right, as well as comparing them with the concepts offered in Managing Leadership.
There is evidence, including in a recent review in The Economist, that theories of “followership” are resurfacing. This unfortunate idea was discussed in Part I of Managing Leadership, and we will address these new manifestations of it, as well, in a future post.
Additionally, we will be commenting on events in contemporary organizational life, as they relate (or not!) to the concepts of Managing Leadership. Stop in and join us!
News about the book:
The international best-selling author of business books on diversity and motivation in the workplace, BJ Gallagher, has endorsed Managing Leadership. Stop by the book’s website to see why she insists you must “read it and reap!” BJ’s famous “A Peacock in the Land of Penguins” has generated massive sales around the world, as well as a huge and dedicated following. It has become a regular part of training programs at all levels for major corporations across the globe. Now, her new developing blockbuster, “Who are ‘They’ Anyway?” is set to accomplish similar benefits for how organizations and their members see themselves and their relationship in their common endeavor. We are very proud that this insightful and accomplished author has endorsed Managing Leadership.
Managing Leadership is currently featured as a highlighted book on the popular and highly regarded bookstore for the leadership community, LeaderShop – stop by and check it out, now! And while you’re there, be sure to explore this suite of fascinating sites dedicated to leadership; see them all from the parent site, LeadershipNow.com.
Do you know which edition of Managing Leadership is ranked the #3 best seller among science and technology books for a major retailer? Science and technology? Don’t ask us how it wound up in that category! (But it’s #3!) Click here to learn more.
New reviews and endorsements for Managing Leadership are in! Stop by the website to learn more about the new John Walsh review and interview, and an endorsement by a major bestselling business author – and more! While you’re there, sign up for the new, revised newsletter so you won’t miss out on future developments.
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