Business Leadership Needs Radical Change: Thousands of Books, Articles… on Leadership– Yet, Very Few Great Leaders…

  • Myth: Everyone can be a leader–Not true.
  • Myth: People who get to the top are leaders–Not necessarily.
  • Myth: Leaders deliver business results–Not always.
  • Myth: Leaders are great coaches–Rarely.

Inspired leadership is not working in many organizations. Leadership is like a lid or ceiling and organizations will not rise beyond the level that leaders allows, or are capable. According to Mike Myatt, poor leadership cripples businesses, ruins economies, destroys families, loses wars, and can bring the demise of nations. Society has essentially commoditized leadership resulting in a leadership bubble of sorts.

Because leadership has become the latest version of an entitlement program, too many unqualified leaders have been allowed to enter the ranks. When leadership is perceived as little more than a title granting access to a platform for personal gain, rather than a privilege resulting in an opportunity to serve, we’ll continue to find ourselves in a crisis of leadership. Corporate leadership structure needs radical change and true change must be fundamental: Reinventing governance structures, boards of directors and oligarchic public company leadership models.

According to Kelvin Thompson, today’s companies are increasingly complex and global– they need to be managed more as a neural network than as a command-and-control business. The 21st century has already spawned a sizable volcano of daunting new challenges and they represent a permanent change of rhythm for most organizations. This change requires a rethinking of the role and decision-making initiatives for leaders, such as:

  • Broadening the scope of employee freedom by managing less, without sacrificing focus, discipline, and order.
  • Creating an organization where the spirit of shared values and community dominate.

In the article Why Leaders Fail by Mark Sanborn writes: In the recent past, we’ve witnessed the public downfall of leaders from almost every area of endeavor– business, politics, religion, and sports. One day they’re on top of the heap, and the next day the heap is on top of them.  The distance between beloved leader and despised failure is shorter than we think. This shift can occur in several ways.

Often, leaders simply lose sight of what’s important. The laser-like focus that catapulted them to the top disappears, and they become distracted by the trappings of leadership, such as wealth and notoriety.  Leaders are usually distinguished by their ability to ‘think big.’ But when their focus shifts, they suddenly start ‘thinking small’. They micro-manage, get caught up in details better left to others, they become consumed with the trivial and unimportant.

And to make matters worse, this tendency can be exacerbated by an inclination toward perfectionism.  A more subtle leadership derailer is an obsession with ‘doing’ rather than ‘becoming.’  A lack of focus and resulting disorientation typically lead to poor communication. Followers can’t possibly understand a leader’s intent when the leader isn’t sure what it is! And when leaders are unclear about their own purpose, they often hide confusion and uncertainty in ambiguous communication. Leaders at risk often begin to be driven by a fear of failure rather than the desire to succeed.

When driven by fear of failure, leaders are unable to take reasonable risks. They want to do only tried and proven; attempts at innovation– typically a key to initial success– diminish and eventually disappear.  A leader’s credibility is result of two aspects: What they do (competency). Who they are (character). A discrepancy between these two aspects creates an integrity problem. 

The highest principle of leadership is integrity. When integrity ceases to be a leader’s top priority, when a compromise of ethics is rationalized away as necessary for the ‘greater good,’ when achieving results becomes more important than the means to their achievement– that is the moment when a leader steps onto the slippery slop of failure…

In the article “Influential Leadership Styles” by Shrilaws writes: The message is clear, ‘command and control’ leadership is obsolete. A different leadership style, one that depends on ‘influencing’ rather than ‘telling’, is required to deal with current market complexities and fast-paced environmental changes. Traditional leadership worked well in less turbulent times where companies ran on simple departmental lines, and the CEO had time to think, plan, schedule, act…

Communication was straight-forward, markets were predictable and people delivered consistently, but now few businesses run this way. We rarely think or act in isolation in the workplace, we influence and we are influenced by people, both in and out of the organization… In his book, ‘The Unconscious Conspiracy’, Warren Bennis highlights how leaders can positively influence others to bring about change. Interdependence, not hierarchy, is today’s watchword. In fact, ‘organization’ means ‘interdependence’ – with each relying on wide networks of stakeholders.

Today’s leaders work across many boundaries – with globalized business units, partners, suppliers, customers, cultural diversity… A lack of leadership, generally, means the leader has allowed things to remain unchanged and losing relevance.

Successful leaders of change may not always be successful leaders of stability, consolidation, continuity, or thriving leaders in periods of massive disruption. These different conditions require a different style of leadership, which may not necessarily be found in the existing senior management, and thus requiring a change in leadership…

In the article “The Decision-Driven Organization” by Marcia W. Blenko, Michael C. Mankins, and Paul Rogers write:  CEOs tend to believe that company structure is closely tied to performance, so therefore it follows that nearly half of all CEOs reorganize their companies during their first two years on the job.

Study by Bain & Company reports that of 57 reorganizations studied less than one-third saw significant performance improvement. This failure is rooted in a misunderstanding about the link between structure and outcome… In truth, a company’s structure only results in improved performance, if it allows the firm to make key decisions better and faster than the competition. This requires a shift in way we manage organizational change. If there is alignment between structure and decisions, then the organization will work better and performance will improve.

To reorganize around decisions, leaders should follow six steps: Identify their firm’s key decisions; figure out where in the company those decisions should happen; organize the macro-structure based on sources of value; determine how much authority decision makers need; align the rest of the organizational system with that related to decision-making; and help managers acquire the skills they need to make better decisions. The ‘new normal’ means constant change and companies must reinvent themselves, continuously, if they want to survive.

In the article “Two Leaders in the Corporation of the Future” by Marianne Lepa writes: New research suggests that having a single leader no longer works for the corporation of the future, and that the roles of CEO and CFO should be given equal say. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as visionary leader is a thing of the past, says Dr. Philip Tulimieri. Dr. Tulimieri believes that the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) should also have equal billing and responsibility for corporate leadership.

Tulimieri says his research suggests that the distinction between the two roles is blurring and that changes in corporate structure and in society at large indicate that the two roles are merging in many ways. Tulimieri says, the forces of globalization have created a confusing and complex set of responsibilities for corporate leaders. The two positions of CEO and CFO while very distinct in duties tend to be recognized now as ‘necessary counterforce’ in the business structure, says Tulimieri.

The CEO is the ‘eternal optimist’ leading the way and the CFO is ‘the realist’ being cautious and warning of risk. The two roles, both address the need for growth and responsibility must function as a team rather than adversaries. A CEO-CFO partnership will provide the engine for this new-millennium corporation, and serve as a starting point for the new corporate model of ethical behavior, sustainability and true stakeholder value.

Intellect is a driver of outstanding CEO performance. Cognitive skills such as big-picture thinking and long-term vision are particularly important. But when calculating the ratio of technical skills, IQ and emotional intelligence (EI), as ingredients of excellent performance; EI proved to be twice as important as the others. ~Daniel Goleman

In the article “Pick A CEO Who Truly Fits The Company” by Nat Stoddard and Claire Wyckoff write: Leadership fit is absolutely crucial, and there are ways you can calculate it. Turnover of CEOs, a prime indicator of wrong leadership, was 50% higher coming into this recession than at the start of the previous one, in 2001.

Several statistics cited in the book ‘The Right Leader: Selecting Executives Who Fit’  likewise indicate that as we entered the current recession, more and more companies were discovering that they didn’t have the right leaders to guide them through normal economic conditions, let alone those we face today. Some 40% of new CEOs are fired or retired, within their first 18 months, and 64% of them never make it to their fourth anniversary on the job.

Surprisingly, the problem is not that leaders can’t do the jobs for which they were hired. On the contrary, everyone in the final slate of candidates for any top leadership position invariably possesses all the abilities, knowledge, skills, experience and personality to do what is needed.

The reason so many of them fail, and are replaced so quickly, is that they don’t fit well enough in the organizations’ cultures or one of the powerful subcultures; to be able to do what is needed in ways that will be accepted by the people they’re supposed to lead. The lack of leadership fit, not a lack of competency or capability, is what causes failure.

According to John Kotter, leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations, in the first place, or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances. Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.

Management is a process that can keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. The most important aspects of management include; planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving. This distinction is crucial: Successful organization transformation is 70 to 90% leadership and only 10 to 30% management.

Many organizations, today, don’t have much leadership. Managing change is important, and without competent management, the transformation process can get out of control. But for most organizations, the much bigger challenge is leading change. Only leadership can blast through the many sources of corporate inertia. Only leadership can motivate the actions needed to alter behavior in any significant way. Only leadership can get change to stick by anchoring it in the very culture of an organization

Until the very foundations of leadership alter, businesses will continue to struggle with innovation and employee engagement. We won’t get rid of the stultifying metaphor of the organization-as-one-person (CEO), and where employees are cast in the role of mere ‘hired-hands’. ~ Mitch McCrimmon