The executives of an enterprise must be strong in their convictions to lead an organization forward. But taken to the extreme, strength in convictions will stifle constructive dissent in an organization and, in turn, creative thinking as well. When the direction of an organization is determined solely by the individual at the top, the seeds of disaster have been planted. I have seen this many times in the work I have done for troubled companies over the years.
Though there are some shining excep-tions, 37 years of experience with more than 400 different operations and organizations leads me to paint a grim picture of the quality of leadership in industry as a whole. While the quality, dedication, motivation and focus of the lower level supervisors and production workers is strong, they continue to fight an uphill battle due to the lack of leadership at and near the top of the organization.
Admittedly, leadership is hard to define and even harder to measure, but that does not diminish its importance in separating business successes from failures. Nonetheless, strong versus weak leadership is easily recognized by the stink of decay generated in an organization lacking leadership. And strong leadership does not mean loud, abusive and arrogant leadership. Many organizations exhibit these so-called leadership traits, which are sure signs of insecurity--and distrust and fear of knowledge--among the leader group.
I have seen top managers combine the worst of arrogance, insecurity and ignorance to the point of killing all creative thought and motivation in an organization. Management by fear and abuse is the culture of these organizations. Dissent is not tolerated, and wisdom and judgment are acknowledged to exist based solely on rank in the organization, regardless of what an individual really knows and can contribute. This top manager is surrounded by cronies, yes-men and mopes. This organization is dwarfed and stunted; the seeds of destruction have been planted and it is only a matter of time before the lights go out.
The truly tragic conclusion is that this situation is largely ignored by the business schools, business press and others who can help change the situation. Instead, the focus is on the next high-tech glitz, which, it is assumed, will manage a business with little if any human intervention and certainly without the need for leadership. This is the "magic potion" that many of today's so-called business leaders seek. As John Celese stated in a recent New York Times article, "Sadly, most of us today (the decision makers and business leaders) believe that the computer is more important than a wise person (the true leader)."
The answer to the question I posed myself in the first sentence is complex and difficult to develop. However, in my opinion, effective leadership is given a low priority because it is so difficult to define and achieve, and because it requires focused self-assessment and that special mind-set--ego control and security in one's self--that so few of us possess.
What's your opinion? Whether you agree or disagree, Fred Kessler will welcome your comments. You can contact him via the Bourton Group's Web site. Just point your browser to www.bourtongroup.com and click on "Contact Us".