Future Leaders

March 16, 2010

Textbooks tell us a lot about the nature of leaders from past history. Some of them give example of present-day leaders. But what might we expect of leaders in the future?

Analysis by Tudor Rickards and Kamel Mnisri

The question was put by a participant on a leadership workshop in Dubai recently. What indeed might we expect from future leaders? Harvard Business Review sometimes permits speculation on the subject to find its way into its august pages. Such articles show a rather worrying absence of any radical shift in beliefs across the period including the global economic crisis which manifested itself in 2008. That is to say, articles about the future of leadership need to be studied as imaginative essays which require constructive testing.

For example, the dominant views of leadership in the most widely-read articles and books on the subject build on work from American leaders. These ideas drew on and fed back into theories of leadership which became increasingly influenced by the American experience, mediated by American cultural norms of individualism and self-actualization. That is not to say that the ideas were sealed off from older influences, particularly from Europe. The economic principles of the free market were retained and developed from the insights of the moral philosophers such as Adam Smith, and through French and German intellectual figures, whose ideas were reinforced in the Unites States by the waves of immigrants making a new life in the emergent super-state.

The re-exporting of these ideas around the world was reinforced by the powerful influence of Harvard Business School which has been attributed as having invented the discipline (and some would say the rhetoric) of organisation studies. By the 1930s, its consulting handmaiden McKinsey was emerging was becoming equally dominant globally through Harvard trained consultants and faculty.

By the turn of the 20th century, the vigorous marketing of the American idea of leadership was firmly entrenched through the most-highly regards journals, textbooks, and more popular best-sellers promising organisational and personal redemption.

A tipping point for leadership theories

Then something spectacular occurred, impacting on leaders and leadership theories around the world. It took the shape of a radical disruption of normality for economic systems. As banks failed, their leaders were accused of corruption, incompetence or both. Even the so-called new leadership model of the 1980s looked rather inadequate. Where were the transformational leaders, believed to be transforming followers into less-selfish actions for the good of the wider social system? Where were the ethical leaders supporting greater awareness of environmental dangers and seeking to achieve greater corporate responsibility?

Opinion pieces on leadership offered a few possibilities. The harshness of dominant leaders had led to proposals that animal instincts were too close to the surface [Mandrill management]. A more person-centred style was advocated with attention to ‘softer’ skills. The new leader was expected to show emotional intelligence.

Blowing in the wind. Superleadership?

A question for students of leadership: What answers are there blowing in these winds of change? One idea is that of distributed or collective leadership. Manz and Sims offer the concept of a version of distributed leadership which collectively makes up a superleader. Will this help introduce a more evenly shared distribution of power and influence in organizations? Will China’s million graduates produced annually be enthused by the prospect of such leadership?

Map-Making and Leadership

March 16, 2010

Leaders need maps to lead. The processes of map-reading, map-testing and map-making have made important contributions to the development of our leaders and civilizations

Maps and Map-making have played an invaluable part in the advancement of human knowledge and discovery processes. Maps in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) have been dated as over nine thousand years ago. Maps have been found in the archeological remains of early civilizations around the world, supporting domestication trade, exploration, and military ventures

The principles of cartography were clarified in the influential writings of Arthur Robinson at the University of Chicago who emphasized that a map is above all something designed with a particular group of users and for some particular purpose or set of purposes. .

The Map is Not The Territory

A well-known saying in management courses is that the map is not the territory. The idea has been popularised by the distinguished organizational theorist Karl Weick in several of his books and lectures. His accounts are based on a poem by Miroslav Holub about a Hungarian reconnaissance unit lost in the Alps. In the poem, the soldiers faced an icy death, until their leader found a map which he used to lead the platoon to safety. On their return, however, it was found that the map was not of the Alps but of the Pyrenees

“we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.
The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees”

The story has been interpreted in various ways. It has been seen as illustaring Weick’s concepts of sense-making, indicating how a map does not have to be accurate to be a means of finding your bearings.

The saying has also become a fundamental principle in the behavioural theory of neurolinguistic programming, in which it stands for the belief that individuals have cognitive structures or maps which provide differing perceptions of their psychological world.

The processes of map-reading, map-testing and map-making are important elements in the text (map) Dilemmas of Leadership.

To go more deeply

Basbøll & Graham, two Danish philosophers, have been untangling the significance of the Weickian anecdote and provide good primary source references. Karl Weick has replied to their article in the same e-journal.