The most sensible thing Peter Drucker ever said about leadership is this:
Leadership is all hype. We’ve had three great leaders in this century – Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.”
He was right. Those guys had it all: vision, oratorical ability, relationship building skills, charisma, relentless focus, outside the box thinking, follower-attracting magnetism.
Supply your own essential leadership characteristic, and it should not be difficult to make the argument that these fellows had it, or could have been argued by themselves or their followers to have it. Moreover they had the unconstrained maneuver room to give their leadership the untrammeled free rein that the modern movement’s gurus also insist is vital.
Is their fate, and the fate they delivered to countless others, only the naturally logical outcome of following the modern leadership prescription of investing virtually unbounded faith in the limitless expectations made of presumptively superlative individual leaders? Must we simply hitch our organizations to these wildly careening creatures whose spirits we, by definition, don’t understand and cannot control or even influence – indeed, which we specifically are advised by the gurus not to attempt to do?
Have we not complied passively and repeatedly in something like this manner in various ways during the numerous frenzied enthusiasms that such leaders have driven through the business world over the past few decades, each followed by a dreadful collapse and devastation of the livelihoods and futures of those who trusted them, and more? Are we not going through something like that now? How’s that been working out?
The problem is that such examples of individual leadership are more than merely a distortion of what defenders will scramble to argue is the true ideal of leadership itself – they represent a distortion of the true nature of leadership. By celebrating its arrogation, like a royal prerogative, to certain divinely sanctioned potentates to be wielded over we benighted masses whose fates, in any event, are of little moment other than to the extent that they support and serve as a backdrop to the glory of our betters, we perpetuate a feudal fiction into the modern age of organizations.
It is more than possible – even reasonable, given the evidence – to argue, as Peter Drucker broadly hinted, that the concept of individual leadership as described and promoted by the modern leadership movement for employment in contemporary business and other organizations is, essentially, a fraud. The intent of this current series, certainly, has been to present the case that it is at the very least an unfortunately ill-conceived distinction that has a distorting, and usually destructive, influence on modern organizational dynamics.
As we have seen, leadership is a natural instinct that arises not in individuals (other than, in an important but limited sense, in entrepreneurs) independent of something to be led. And it is important to recall that it is promoted in precisely this way: as an individual – and as an essentially portable – characteristic that is independent of organizational context and which can be carried with the individual leader from setting to setting and then unpacked for implementation strictly on its own merits.
It is much more effective – as well as, I think, more balanced and healthy both for organizations and individuals – to view it as an organizational characteristic. These organizations are administered by managers who cultivate, deploy, and manage all the assets available to further the goals of the organization and its owners. These assets include the unique characteristics of the organization itself. Those characteristics stem from the corporate culture, and they inescapably include organizational leadership.
This exists whether or not managers – or “leaders” – are aware of its presence; and that explains many of the supposed concerns arising from various ways organizations may fail to passively yield to individual leadership from above; so-called “resistance to change” is commonly an example of this.
Management’s role, then, is not to subordinate itself to leadership, nor to operate separately or in some parallel fashion alongside or downstream of it. Management’s role with respect to leadership is to manage it.
So, back to work. This is the last post in this series. Tomorrow we’re going to talk a little about efforts to define or predict individual political or ideological proclivities from apparently unrelated personal preferences or behaviors. See you then!
Today’s tip: Speaking of devastation caused by outside forces (and the promise of more of it from the current global financial crisis), please take a moment to see this essay about how we nevertheless always seem to manage to live through it, by Cam Beck at ChaosScenario. Read it all, then ponder and enjoy the concluding sentence.
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