Challenging the Cult of Leadership!

On Saturday morning, I was reading the Report on Business Magazine that come once a month with my Globe and Mail newspaper when I came upon this Exit Interview article with Richard Currie – now, while the article is interesting, what really caught my attention was his response to the question “What are your rules for running a business?” which was:

I dislike centralization with a passion – the idea that all the brains and ability reside at the top, and the rest of the organization has to be obedient.
I have been thinking for a while about the “cult of leadership” – in a book on this topic, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki identifies one of the challenges is that we put too much faith in individual leaders or experts, either because of their position or track record and that these individuals also become over-confident in their abilities. I don’t want to question the ability and competence of all leaders or experts – while I certainly have seen my share of bad ones, most are good people doing the best they can. However, in today’s increasingly complex and fast-paced knowledge economy, much of which is both enabled by and driven by technology, it is unrealistic to expect individuals, however good they are, to have all the answers, all the time. The reality is that neither position nor past success is any guarantee of future success.

If organisations are to succeed in today’s knowledge economy, they cannot constrain themselves to the knowledge of a few individuals – to put it a more brutal way, they cannot be constrained by the habits or ego(s) of their leader(s)! Organisations must tap into the collective knowledge of all their people. We need effective governance that reaches out to and involves key stakeholders – retaining appropriate accountability, based on the law of subsidiarity – an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. This means locating accountability and decision-making at the most appropriate level, while supporting decisions with broader and more knowledgeable input.

This leads to an unlikely but interesting marriage – that of “traditional” governance and social networking – I believe that this has enormous potential – stay tuned for more thinking on this topic!
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