More discussion On Leadership

Long-time blog pal the strategist has been posting on the recurring theme of Leadership as of late. He has two worthy posts What can Chuang Tzu tell us about leading people? and Where can you find good books about leadership? that anyone interested in leadership should go read.

The first post emphasizes the role of a leader as a facilitator: A leader must “create or shape situations where people succeed through their own initiative and effort.” The second post is chock full of resources on leadership that do not use that specific term in the title, and a further discussion of the term itself.

A couple of years back we had a lively discussion on leadership that Peter himself took part in. It might be interesting to see if and how views have changed.

In his latest book Tribes, the famous marketer Seth Godin makes an important distinction between leaders and managers:

Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.
Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.

I think this could definitely extend to military and political leadership. Godin’s point is a manager’s role is that of increasing efficiency within the current paradigm. Leaders on the other hand, break with the past.

Furthermore, Godin stresses in his book that in this day and age anyone and everyone can be a leader of their own movement, if they are willing to take the initiative. In our field this is evidenced both by super-empowered individuals like Osama bin Laden, and the Strategic Corporals on the ground all over the world. I also hope it can evidenced by our current political leaders soon, because it always seems that blog posts on leadership are compelled to refer to the bygone works of Churchill, Sun Tzu and Xenaphon.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
This entry was posted in General and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to More discussion On Leadership

  1. von-Kaufman Turkestansky says:

    Somewhere in Book 3 or 4 of War and Peace, Tolstoy attributes some thoughts to Kutuzov on leadership, that boil down to: a little nudge here and therem don’t try too hard, or something like that. I want to look that up again.

  2. Thomas says:

    “Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.
    Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.”

    That really does feel like an empty slogan from a motivational seminar.

    Leadership, meaning the concept that we are sold by managers and not the actual deeds of leaders, has become a punchline.

  3. Joe Jones says:

    I agree that Godin’s line sounds empty, but there is truth to it.

    One reason why we don’t see great leaders any more: the world has so many entrenched managers, whether you are looking at the government, the military, the corporate world or academia. Leadership is perhaps more evident in the Middle East simply because there isn’t the same labyrinth of managers to buffer the leaders’ effects. This is also true in the blogosphere and the high-tech world, where the leader:manager ratio can be very high without compromising the effectiveness of the mission. It has even become an issue in the current legislative election here in Japan, although I don’t think the purported “leaders” have the resolve or the ability to reduce the impact of the legions of managers.

  4. McKellar says:

    Joe Jones: I think you’re right, our (modern-western) society has gotten too complex to be properly managed, so we end up throwing layers upon layers of management at our problems, making any actual change impossible. It disturbed me when I first did some research into how the non-profit sector worked, and found that a lot of their efforts were directed at applying for grants and creating statistics to justify themselves to other bureaucracies. Then there’s our military, which can’t fathom a solution to a problem that doesn’t involve a contract to some high-tech company.

    So this is how our decline and fall happens? Coca-Cola and Lockheed-Martin outsmarted by urban gangs and cave-dwelling guerrillas?

  5. Master Cook says:

    Everyone should read Joseph Tainter’s study of how declines happen at some point.

    He compares the fall of ancient Rome, the medieval Maya, and the pueblo dwellers (the use of the different scales is deliberate). His conclusion is that civlizations achieve success by organizing solutions to problems. But eventually they hit diminishing returns, the problems that can be solved by a relatively simple level of organization are solved, and to solve additional problems they need ever more complex organizations with more levels of managers etc. Eventually the level of organization needed simply requires more resources than the civilization has.

    So you get more and more management failures, then there is a “fall” as the civilization returns to a more sustainable level of complexity.

  6. Peter Hodge says:

    YH – thanks for the mention in your post.

    Regarding Godin’s idea about “Leaders have followers”. I don’t agree with this formulation as it implies a master-servant relationship, or a prophet-disciple relationship. Some leaders work like this, but it’s not sustainable beyond the lifetime of the relationship – in other words, it works against the second part of Godin’s formulation, that of enduring change.

    I’d recast this to say that “leaders have collaborators”, or something similar. This indicates that is a two way street, a cooperative enterprise in which everyone involved see themselves as active and important participants. It also suggests what I believe to be an important dynamic of successful enterprises – that the leader creates situations in which others also lead.

    I know this is getting to be something of a cliche, but the German idea of “Mission tasks” (Auftragstaktik) is a good example of this idea of a leader enabling his or her people to run their own ships.

  7. feeblemind says:

    I believe a true leader is somewhat of a rare bird. He must be able to inspire and motivate his followers. If he does, his followers will want to run through brick walls for him. I don’t know if those skills can be learned or if one must be born with them?

  8. careminfo says:

    Going to work for a large company is like getting on a train. Are you going sixty miles an hour or is the train going sixty miles an hour and you’re just sitting still?