Tuesday, October 24, 2020
Obsession with Leadership Undermining Organisations
Controversial management Professor Henry Mintzberg has launched a broadside at his own colleagues in management education with a robust denunciation of the current obsession that business schools seem to have with teaching 'leadership'. Writing in today's Financial Times, Prof Mintzberg says: "We have this obsession with 'leadership'. Its intention may be to empower people, but its effect is often to disempower them." By focusing on the single person, he argues, "leadership becomes part of the syndrome of individuality" that is "undermining organizations."
Prof Mintzberg, a strategy professor at McGill University in Montreal, also lays into "managers who sit on 'top', pronouncing their great visions, grand strategies and abstract performance standards."
Let's stop kidding ourselves. If there is a generic problem from the "syndrome of individuality" that is certainly present today, it's not a lack of leadership; it's a lack of actual individuality and innovation at the top.It certainly makes little sense to assume that "leadership" (whatever that is—no two gurus seem to agree in any detail) is going to save an organization from its own folly. Besides, even those leaders who do, in Professor Mintzberg's words, sit at the top and pronounce great visions, must be doing a thoroughly poor job of it. All that I see is a pattern of imitation and repetition throughout industry. What one company does today, everyone else does tomorrow. If that constitutes the work of a leader, all I can say is that any line of Army Ants in the jungle is full of outstanding leaders, since they follow one another perfectly for days at a time. Let's stop kidding ourselves. If there is a generic problem from the "syndrome of individuality" that is certainly present today, it's not a lack of leadership; it's a lack of actual individuality and innovation at the top.
All the emphasis on individual leaders is like the stupid cult of the individual in team sports. No individual can do the work of a team, even a small one. If you have a movie that's a turkey (and there are lots and lots of those), putting a big star even in a key role role won't rescue it from the ridicule and obscurity it deserves. Organizations are not star vehicles. Business is a group endeavor, not something that can be done by a "star" CEO and a team of sycophantic acolytes.
Professor Mintzberg has it right. All the fuss about leadership is crap. The real reason for it is that leadership training can be sold and business success can only be won by the dedicated work of a community of people.
The good Professor almost reaches the sharp end when he draws the analogy with the "the cult of the individual in team sport".
In fact, most modern corporations are crippled by individuals in middle to senior management making a play to get themselves in the Hot Seat rather than making plays that are good for business.
As a consultant I'm lucky enough to get to snoop on a very diverse range of large business and in every one I find the same thing :
Willful destruction of value for self advancement or other political reasons.
Everyone read the Leadership manual and want to be the Captain when there's plenty of sailors required.
Thanks for your comment—and keep reading, my friend.
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