As we’ve seen, the form of more-or-less genuine individual leadership most likely to be identified at the top of an organization is to be discovered in the founder/owner. As we’ve also seen, this does nothing to support the wholly misplaced lessons of the modern leadership movement, since these “leaders” are not products of external education, but of internal instincts. As for leadership and entrepreneurship, it doesn’t support their conflation either because the ones who succeed to the point of attracting notice are a miniscule proportion of those who make the effort, and those who display what is interpreted as leadership are a smaller subset still.
The co-incidence of what we recognize as individual leadership with success in such instances is just that: coincidence. And, more than that, as influential as that leadership may be to the culture and operation of such organizations, there is no real evidence that it actually is the fundamental source of their success. After all, the much vaster pool of failed organizations is driven by similar expressions of leadership, which by themselves regularly prove to be distinctly insufficient. So, leadership by founder/owners in failed organizations is insufficient, and the same sort in successful ones is irrelevant, or perhaps only marginally and insufficiently relevant, to their success.
But there is another form of what is widely recognized as individual leadership in organizations. Anna Smith refers to an excellent example of this in a recent post on her site, a wonderful resource for managers, What Do You Want From Them. This is the individual leader who appears from within. This typically occurs in larger, more mature organizations, since the form of leadership expressed by founder/owners tends to overwhelm the expression of it by, or even the presence of it in, others.
Anna describes an individual who holds a position that carries little or no real formal authority over others, but who nevertheless exhibits a strong and constructive influence over not only members of the organization of all ranks and departments, but even among outside vendors – indeed, even among customers.
We’ve all seen such individuals appear at various times among us. We all recognize the genuine leadership they naturally express, and we all feel the satisfying instinct to follow it. Moreover, it clearly conforms with much of how the modern leadership movement defines it.
Except that it is not a product of that movement. It is the fortuitous incidence of an alert, positive, engaging personality among us in an environment that happens, for one reason or another and for indeterminate periods of time, to be congenial to the organizationally constructive expression of these traits.
It is not taught, and it is not replicable (at least not by leaders from above striving to imprint their own leadership on the organization). It is wholly fortuitous. As such, even it must be seen as at most supportive of a successful organization’s success, rather than fundamentally responsible for it.
It seems that while leadership can occur in organizations, it may not have much to do with, or even to say about, them. We’ll look at that when we pick this topic up next. See you soon!
Speaking of entrepreneurship, please see this WSJ piece about striking examples of it in Europe. Note how many of these the UK seems to be producing.
And speaking of macro-leadership in innovation, please see this excellent Bret Stephens essay on why this century is likely to remain American rather than Chinese for some time; see why “you cannot plagiarize your way to pre-eminence.”
Finally, here’s a real holiday gift for you – Wally Bock offering a typically gripping description, and a brilliant summary of the meaning, of his encounter with Peter Drucker.
Note: Managing Leadership was recently included in a list of resources for students at Online Schools. Many thanks to them and best wishes for their efforts to contribute to the continued professionalization of this educational avenue of the future.
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