we don’t need better leaders

“Why is everyone so hung up on Leaders, Leadership and Leadership courses – it’s what gets us into a mess. Think banking, politics, sport…”Donald Clark

If all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. If all you know is hierarchical leadership by virtue of one’s position, then all solutions are in the hands of the CEO. Conversations with 150 CEO’s only yield ‘CEO thinking’.

“To raise the organization’s confidence in their decisions, leaders must carefully balance the various personal paradoxes involved in the decision-making process, including:

doubt – anxiety versus fearlessness, omniscience versus ignorance;
conviction – openness versus self-sufficiency, hubris versus humility;
realism – realistic optimism, i.e., pragmatism, versus blind optimism, i.e., gambling; and
patience – the right pacing or timing of decisions versus detrimental haste and hesitation.”

The great man theory of leadership is outdated, just as the divine right of kings was two centuries ago. Even the World Economic Forum thinks in terms of leadership as an individual achievement. The 4 skills you need to become a global leader, according to a WEF article, are:

  1. Have multiple skills so that you have flexibility in your options
  2. Be ready for set-backs
  3. Expose yourself to other cultures
  4. Learn to communicate well

This is fairly pragmatic advice for everyone, not just those who are trying to move up the artificial ladders of institutions and organizations. But we don’t need better leaders. We need organizations and structures that let all people cooperate and collaborate. Positional leadership is a master-servant, parent-child, teacher-student, employer-employee relationship. It puts too much power in the hands of individuals and blocks human networks from realizing their potential.

In the network era, leadership is helping the network make better decisions. The future as proposed by current leadership is about becoming a better leader, but it’s really about all of us becoming better people. This starts by creating more human organizational structures, ones that enable self-governance. Leadership is an emergent property of a network in balance. Depending on one person to always be the leader will only dumb-down the entire network.

Further Reading: Network Leadership

9 Responses to “we don’t need better leaders”

  1. david kolmer

    Harold,
    I stopped in at your blog to check it out per your advice to start a professional blog in an elearning Mag article.
    I am really glad that I did. This article was very well written and I like the points you make about “virtual ladders” and the new format of teams and leaders.

    I can not help but think of the old term “Interdependent Arising” here.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prat%C4%ABtyasamutp%C4%81da

    Thank You,
    David.

    Reply
  2. Sonya Van Schaijik

    Hi Harold,
    I stumbled across this and your writing resonated.
    Probably one more I would add would be building relationships (space between the nodes concept). Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Guy Boulet

    I thinks there is still a place for leaders but the role of leaders must be adapted to new paradigms. Removing leaders from organizations can easily lead to anarchy: when everyone is in charge, no one is in charge. have you ever tried to solve a serious issue in a group meeting? The more people involved in the decision process, the longest it takes to reach a decision, if any.

    I think that the role of the leader in a network era is not to direct but to guide. The military concept on a single know-it-all leader is outdated. What we need now are leaders who are able to empower every member of the team so that everyone becomes a leader in its own field and to guide them toward a common objective.

    Leadership is not about power and authority, it is about guidance and empowerment.

    Reply
  4. Curtis Ogden

    Thanks for this, Harold. I shared a segment of this post during the closing of our Food Solutions New England Network Team yesterday (http://www.foodsolutionsne.org). And like others in this stream, I do see a need for better leaders AND new thinking about and practice of leadership. And your points are well taken. I put up this post the other day based on my experience supporting various multi-organization change networks – http://interactioninstitute.org/network-leadership-roles-2-0/. It touches on some of the helpful network leadership functions/roles we’ve experienced. Curious to hear your and others’ reactions.

    Thanks, Harold, for all of your important and inspiring work!

    Best,

    Curtis

    Reply
  5. shobana

    Sounds more spiritual to me. I agree that leadership is really about all of us becoming better people. This starts by creating more human organizational structures, ones that enable self-governance . However, just as Guy Boulet says – “the role of the leader in a network era is not to direct but to guide. The military concept on a single know-it-all leader is outdated. What we need now are leaders who are able to empower every member of the team so that everyone becomes a leader in its own field and to guide them toward a common objective”.

    Reply
  6. Glen Martel

    Harold
    Useful insight. The power, solution creating capability, of the team is more powerful than the leader. Perhaps that is why more “leaders” don’t see it.

    The true leader will inspire and empower the team to achieve greatness.

    Reply

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