April 24, 2012

The END of leadership by Barbara Kellerman

The END of leadership by Barbara Kellerman

(Are our institutions are good
at training future leaders ? what are the changing paradigm - I like her
enriching words. She is describing a bigger problem - a gnawing, growing,
chronic problem that threatens the fabric of life in 21st century (in leadership)). 

Between man and women, it was resumed until only recently that husbands would, and should , dominate while wives would and should defer. Along similar lines, between leaders and followers, it was presumed until only recently that leaders should dominate and followers defer. Leaders were generally expected to tell followers what to do, and followers were generally expected to do as they were told. No longer. Now follower’s like wives are far sturdier than they used to be, stronger and more independent. Moreover now, ideally anyway, leaders are supposed to suggest or recommend that their followers follow not order them to do so.

Two most obvious examples are the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Both were transformational events in which followers came to the fore, while leaders came under attack.

Five types of followers according to their level of engagement.
  • Isolates do not care about their leaders; 
  • Bystanders do care but they make deliberate decision to stand aside to disengage from their leaders; 
  • Participants some way involved; activists who feel strongly about their leaders; 
  • Activists feel strongly about their leaders, one way or another
  • Diehards who prepared to die for their leaders (or conversely to oust them by any means necessary?).

  • Power - is defined as A’s capacity to get B to do whatever A wants, whatever B’s preference and if necessary by force.

  • Authority is A’s capacity to get B to do whatever A wants, based on A’s position, status or rank. 
  • Influence is A’s capacity to persuade B to go along with what A wants and intends of B’s own violation.

(Current theories of leadership are around 40) leadership development implies developing good leaders and that good leaders are both ethical and effective. Leadership is about devolution of power - from those up top to those down below.

Freud asked “is it possible that one single man can develop such extraordinary effectiveness (e.g. Hitler)? And his own answer was, “We know that the great majority of people have a strong need for authority which they can admire. And which dominates and sometimes even ill-treats them’.

Confucius was asked, “How does one qualify to govern? The master answered. “He who cultivates the five treasures and eschews the four evils is fit to govern”. What are those five treasures? “Confucius replied, “A gentleman is generous without having to spend: he makes people work without having them groan; he has ambition but no rapacity; he has authority but nor arrogance; he is stern but not fierce”. This is in contrast with his contemporaries, Plato whose definition for leader is Philosopher-king. “He is the joint product of his tyrannical nature and his despotic rule and the longer he rules, the more oppressive his tyranny’.

Both Plato & Confucius had essentially same solution: find extraordinary men and provide them an extraordinary education so they learn to lead wisely and well. Both have key characteristics in common: they approximate perfection. They crown a context that is lead-centric: In the history of leadership, therefore, they belong to a time when it was widely believed that only hero-leaders, great men of singular virtue and accomplishment, could save us from ourselves.

Like all histories, the history of leadership is one of intrusions and interruptions.  So the phenomenon of the power shift from top to bottom did not follow a linear path (for centuries the church controlled access even to Bible as Latin is only for the scholars). The first modern revolution - Glorious revolution in England which diminished the idea that kings rule by ‘divine right’_ did not happened until 1688. It transformed English state and society but also because, like all modern revolutions, it was popular, violent and divisive.  

The fact that this particular upheaval was the first that can reasonably be described as ‘popular’, the first in which relatively large numbers of followers were bound and determined to diminish their leaders, makes it a historical event important in its own right, as well as a harbinger of a future for followers that was far different from their past.

Other two revolution that followed (American and French), upended rulers in favor of the ruled. Both compelled the aristocracy to establish a semblance of a democracy and both distributed power authority and influence much more widely than they had been distributed before. Thomas Paine, author of ‘Common Sense’, which sparked the flame that lit the revolution, reflected this rage at the crown. He accused, ‘the King and his parasites’ of every evil, reminding Americans that by leaving Great Britain their ancestors had fled ‘not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster.”.In revolutionary time resistance is a virtue and obedience a vice.

Through evolution and revolution, the balance between those who had power, authority and influence and those who did not had changed in ways that would never, could never be undone. Leaders were threatened and followers emboldened, and philosophers like Brailin Paulo Freire were heard loud and clear: “Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation?”

We used to defer to physicians; we’d take their word as gospel and do what they told us to do. Now we pocket their instructions, and then second-guess them by getting another opinion or by getting another ten thousand opinion on WebMD. It is everywhere as we challenge our superiors, leaders and managers, emboldened to do so the spread of democracy, by the rhetoric of empowerment and the practice of participation.

Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette described the American family of its time as an orderly unit. ‘A man’s last glimpse of his wife in the morning and his first view of her at night” should be pleasant experience’. The book is a guide to gracious living (father at the top, mother in the middle and children at the bottom). 

Judith Martin’s Miss Manners generally sides not with those higher up, but with those lower down. Now it is not so much children being told to behave as it is parents being informed that ‘rudeness to children counts as it is parents being informed that’ rudeness to children counts as rudeness’. Now the home is supposed to be anything but a model of a well ordered perfection: “To keep a house in which every object, down to the smallest bibelot, is in perfect taste is in shocking taste”. 

And now parents, as opposed to being paragons of virtue in positions of authority, are advised explicitly to acknowledge their flaws and foibles and to be communal rather than controlling. Restoring to the law should be the last resort, but you should give everyone involved a gentle reminder that it is available to you..And you should keep saying it up the chain of command until you get to someone who...has the sense to get frightened”.

By the end of 20th century, leading by commanding and controlling was dead and gone, and leading by cooperating and collaborating was famously in fashion. While words and terms such as team, network, engagement, empowerment, cooperation, collaboration, participation and flattened hierarchy became touchstone in a time when power and authority were diminished and influence necessarily was shared. 

Leadership, James Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote in their book, ‘Leadership challenge’ is not a solo act, it’s a team effort. Daniel Goleman said ‘ the superiority of group decision making over that of even the brightest individuals in the group and leaders rather being aristocrats, they should now be democrats, true collaborators who work as team members rather than top-down leaders”.  He said great leaders are great listeners: they create the sense that they truly want to hear employee’s thoughts and concerns”.

Humility, authenticity and responsive leadership are the new buzzwords at the top. In fact a few experts have got to the point of concluding that leaders are dispensable altogether (Philip Selznick’s leadership in Administration). “The absence of structure, leadership and formal organization, once considered a weakness has become a major asset”.

In reality TV competition (e.g. American Idol or dancing with stars), experts are part of the proceedings - they select the talent that competes and they critique the contestants’ performances- but we are the ones with final say. It further fuels our sense of entitlement and empowerment and it further devalues those better schooled or credentialed more informed than we.  Once upon a time there was no such thing as a focus group or crowd sourcing. Now they are ubiquitous, groups of ordinary people whose opinions and attitudes are for various reasons considered significant - followers, not leaders who are driving the action. 

Teachers are graded by students at the end of the course were not heard of it in the past which is a norm now. Firms like Yelp, Zagat asks our opinion about the restaurant grading not by usual experts. These countless, relentless surveys that ask people everywhere for their opinions about everything and everyone. Our incessant need to know what ordinary people around the world think and believe and like and dislike in indicative of cumulative of followers on leaders purportedly in charge.

The converse of follower power,its necessary corollary is leader limits: formal and informal limits, political limits, professional limits and personal limits. These are limits on leaders’ capacity to wield power, exercise authority and exert influence. The only leader who is entirely free of such limits is the tyrannical leader - the leader who is willing and able to use power to coerce.

Harlan Cleveland’s Leadership and the Information revolution’ in which with precision and prescience he identified how information dissemination would affect leadership and followership. As per him Information is game changer. Unlike other resources, information expands as it is used and it leaks. Moreover it is shared not exchanged and once it’s been shared, disseminated and diffused. It has the potential for significant impact. Cleveland wrote “The tidal waves of social change in my lifetime - environmental sensitivity, civil rights for all races, the enhanced status of women,were not generated by established leaders in government, business, religion or even high education. They boiled up from the people, with the help of new, often younger leaders who had not previously been shared from”.

Despite disagreement over the level of its impact (internet), as well as over its merits and deficits, it is inarguable that the internet engages millions of people in collective conversations that before would have been impossible. In the process it diffuses and disseminates resources previously available to only an elite few - first information and then influence. This heightened sense of entitlement - of being entitled to participate - is a worldwide phenomenon.

What is exactly the right stuff? What more precisely does meritorious leadership consists of? The answer is deceptively simple, for now matter how gussied up the language, no matter how many leadership traits, skills, characteristics and capacities you can think to name, leadership is judged on only two criteria - ethical and effectiveness. It is as simple as that - which is precisely the problem. Put directly, when the contract between leaders and followers is based on merit as opposite to self-interest, the game changes. That is, if merit is perceived to be lacking, either because the leader is seen as being in some serious way inept, the contract is weakened or even abrogated altogether. This in a nutshell, explains why political America has come to be considered nearly ungovernable, and why corporate America is viewed as little short of rapacious.

Since so many leaders seem to so many followers to be inept or corrupt, hapless or greedy, Americans have changed gradually but ineffably into a nation of malcontents: unwilling to support those in charge unless they must, and unable ourselves to fix what’s broken.

What has changed is the logic of the contract. Since 21st century followers follow for only two reasons - either they have to or because they want to. This raises the question of how to learn to lead in the 21st century? When resources such as power, authority and influence are scarcer than before and when any number of followers is as likely to be resistant as deferent? How to learn to lead when the context itself is fraught with complexity and constraint?

(In 1984, 41% of the American population were centrists and only 10% identified as either very liberal or very conservative; in 2005, only 23% is centrist and the two extremes rose to 23%. 1% of population takes away 25% of the income in US and hence the fight by 99% - Occupy wall street had no hierarchy.{there’s power over, power under and power within. We’re trying to get rid of power over”. Income of the 99% grew 1.3% between 2002 & 2007 and at the same, it grew 10% for the top 1%. There is no hard evidence that the American people are prepared on any massive scale to protest capitalism in its current incarnation. But there is widespread pessimism - and a recurring refrain about the disappearing American dream).

Change in leadership account for roughly 10% of the variance in corporate profitability on average - they are not omnipotent. There are many university programs, corporate programs on leadership.

Can leadership - how to lead-be taught? The truth is, we don’t know. We don’t know if learning how to lead wisely and well can be taught, for the objective evidence is scant. What we do know, though, is that by large ‘the leadership industry is self-satisfied, self-perpetuating and poorly policed” and that by and large, these are trying times, in which ‘the leadership class has not exactly distinguished itself.

When a student asked to Confucius, “what should I do in order to make the people respectful, loyal and zealous” Confucius replied, ” Approach them with dignity and they will be respectful. Be yourself a good son and a kind father and they will be loyal. Raise the good and train the incompetent and they will be zealous”.

Leadership education divides into two categories - leadership education for the purpose of learning how to lead and leadership education for the purpose of learning about leadership. The former one is about leadership practice and the later is about leadership theory. What should be learned when learning to lead, the industry provides four answers.
  • Leaders should learn certain skills such as communication skills, negotiating skills, and decision making skills.
  • Leaders should acquire awareness in particular self-awareness,
  • Leaders should have experience. For example, in mobilizing and managing
  • Leaders should learn the difference between right and wrong - though how exactly ethics or character should be taught remains unclear.

According to Harvard University’s Center for Public Leadership, there are seven essential competencies for public leadership. They are personal, interpersonal, organizational, systemic, catalytic, contextual and theoretical.

According to Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, there are 3 imperatives for becoming a great leader. - managing yourself, managing your network, and managing your team.

According to Jeffrey Gabdz and his colleagues good leaders do five things and they are analyze the environment, formulate winning strategies, execute ‘brilliantly’, evaluate outcomes and build for the future.

According to Jim Kouzes and James Posner there are five key leadership practices and they are modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act and engaging the heart.

We need to develop a higher level of contextual intelligence to practice as well as preach international cooperation - intergroup leadership and followership, as well as intra-group leadership and followership. We need to think of leadership as a creative art - for which leaders and followers both are educated, for which leaders and followers both are prepared over a lifetime of learning.

This book is about changing patterns of dominance and deference - and about how and why the leadership industry fallen short of what some of us had wanted and intended. What I will say is this: leadership is in danger of becoming obsolete. Not leaders - there will always be leaders - but leadership as being more consequential than followership, leadership as learning we should pay to acquire, leadership as anything better than business as usual, leadership as a solution to whatever our problems and leadership as an agreement of which merit is a component. To preclude this possibility - the possibility of its own obsolescence -- the leadership industry must at a minimum make four changes.

1. It must end the leader-centrism that constricts the conversation
2. It must transcend the situational specifics that make it so myopic
3. It must subject itself to critical analysis
4. It must reflect the object of its affection - change with the changing times.

Books referred in this book:
Betty Friedan ‘s The Feminine Mystique (so-called bible of modern women’s movement)
Stanton ‘Declaration of sentiments’ (penning list of grievances by the powerless (women) by men)
Niccolo Machivalle’s The Prince (most famous book on politics ever written)
Robert Townsend’s Up the Organization: how to stop the Corportations from Stifling people and stranglinig profits”
Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette
William H. Whyte’s Organization Man
Philip Selznick’s Leadership in Administration
Judith Martin’s Miss Manners
Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom’s The Star fish and spider.
Harlan Cleveland’s Leadership and the Information revolution
Deborah Rhode’s women and leadership
Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana - Handbook of leadership Theory and practice