Industry News Details

Reclaiming Leadership In The Age Of Agile Posted on : Oct 26 - 2020

In a world with too many disengaged, dissatisfied, and disaffected employees, as well as bumbling governments unable to deal with destabilizing change, and too many people putting misplaced trust in populist leaders, it’s sad to note that even leadership experts concede that the multi-billion-dollar leadership industry has been of little help.

The never-ending array of conferences, books, workshops, and training programs on the theme of leadership has not only failed to generate appropriate leadership behavior, or even agreement on the concept of leadership: they have often made things worse.

A different, more pragmatic, and more agile concept of leadership is needed to cope with the complex, rapidly changing world of the 21st century.

The Leadership Disease

A key part of the problem of leadership is that leadership itself is suffering from a lethal disease: the concept of leadership has become disconnected from getting stuff done in the world. The well-meaning efforts of business school writers, like Warren Bennis and Abraham Zaleznik, to inject an ethical element into leadership has ended up with leadership becoming separate from execution, while management is looked down on as something mundane, tactical, empty of ethics, and beneath the serious attention of genuine leaders. On this view, leaders set direction: getting there is up to someone else. Leadership is increasingly seen as a set of attributes rather than a function of getting results.

It is as if these writers on leadership have been embracing an upstairs-downstairs concept of leadership, in which corporations are not too different from the fictional Edwardian estates of Downton Abbey or Manderley, in which the executives set direction, enjoy the privileges and extravagant compensation of titled lords and ladies, and converse and dine in comfort and splendor, while only occasionally giving attention to the activities in the kitchens, sculleries, workshops, and garages below, let alone to the activities of the tenant-farmers whose toil in the fields finances these great ancestral estates. The fact that these properties were steadily losing money and at risk of becoming bankrupt was no more than a minor anxiety amid the charm of the luxurious lives upstairs, until financial reality eventually came crashing in on everything.

In this fictional Edwardian world, management of the mundane and often grubby activities downstairs or out in the fields required different kind of people altogether from those upstairs—lower class, speaking with a different accent, without formal education, obsequious toward superiors but able to keep those below in line. The unquestionable structure of the arrangements was held in place by the unspoken assumptions of Edwardian society: it was simply the way things were—until it wasn’t. View More