Purpose eats leadership for breakfast

Take a good close-up look at this picture. That is the first thing that appears when I Google images of “leadership”. Not “dictator” or “complete dick” even.

But who are the real dicks? The guy surfing the arrow, or the serfs carrying the arrow?

You’re not a leader until you get a follower. Until then, you’re just a crank.

The problem with hierarchical organisations is that not only do they create leaders, by creating job descriptions with the word “leadership” in them, they also create “followers”, i.e. everybody else below them. Did you sign up to be follower? Was that in your job description?

I read this really interesting bit, and so should you. Here. Turns out, if you want leadership, and so you must, as there’s so many books about it, then you also logically need “followership”, something that there are very few books about. Are you a follower? I’m not, I bloody aren’t. Shan’t! Can’t, even.

Where are all these followers? The ones who really really want to follow someone.

I suspect [whispers quietly] they’re nowhere. Sssh! Don’t let on. If there aren’t loads of people desperate to follow the next messiah that comes along, then that’s it for the next would-be messiah that comes along.

Greetings serfs! I am your new leader, you may tremble before me if you wish.”
Not going to get far without followers is he? Which is lucky for him as they are already there in organisations, pre-greased and basted.
All those people without “follower” in their employment contract, have it written large in the Psychological Contract.

This is the unwritten and sometimes unspoken terms of your employment, the invisible truth of where you work. Your visible employment contract or job definition is just for the rubes, the real one is “the way things are done around here“, both good and bad.

In command and control organisations: “the skills of execution are the most highly developed and rewarded. The ability to take, follow and execute an order is of great value and will help you move up the chain. Communication, conflict resolution, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking are delegated in large parts to “management.” When things get sticky, call your manager … they will know what to do. If they don’t, they will call their manager. [link]

I think it’s this thinking, re-enforced from above and below, that is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to get “purpose” or systems thinking to stick. Purpose is outside an organisation. It’s not the latest management wheeze. It’s more solid than that. Concentrating on purpose, or customer demand or “the problem we’re really trying to solve” is quite revolutionary. It turns the focus from inwards where opinion is King to outwards where reality is. When this happens anybody can be “right”, it isn’t a privileged position. In fact people closer to the problem, to the customer/client and to the work are more likely to be “right” or at least “righter” than those further away, a complete inversion of the normal order.

When this happens the role of “leader” changes fundamentally. When I read “the literature” about this type of caper leaders and leadership are words still in there and in use, just with different roles. Instead of telling they turn to helping, from being strategic to being purposeful. But they’re still there. The same people, different job descriptions. Doing better things with better thinking undoubtedly, but still there.

Aren’t people-called-leaders just really out of date, and we’re just finding things for them to do otherwise they’d be getting under everybody’s feet? Like amusing a small child on a long car journey by giving them a really important job to do like counting the number of yellow cars.






This entry was posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, leadership, systems thinking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Purpose eats leadership for breakfast

  1. John Liddle says:

    If you’re looking for a single reason to laugh at hierarchical, command and control, organisations then may I suggest the separation of thinking/decision-making from doing the work? The idea that a single person – call them leader, manager, commander or indeed po-faced bastard – has more intelligence and insight than all the people doing the work and should therefore make the decisions is so obviously barking mad that once it’s clearly seen it can only be ridiculed.

    I assume that command and control management made sense (to the commander) when he or she was the autocrat in charge and owned the business or the regiment. I doubt that it ever made sense to the troops.


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