Posts Tagged ‘end of leadership’

The End of Leadership!

The end of leadership is a pretty bold statement!  If you look around you will see some very dramatic changes in the world.  I believe that our traditional leadership structures are falling away and a new form of leadership is emerging.

In fact the genesis of this bold statement came from Warren Bennis, a pioneer of the field of contemporary Leadership Studies, in his article, “The End of Leadership: Exemplary Leadership is Impossible Without the Full Inclusion, Initiatives, and Cooperation of Followers”.  Bennis previously had been an advocate of TOPdown leadership.  After being asked to debate against his TOPdown position, Bennis came to a startling conclusion, he writes, “I came to the unmistakable revelation that TOPdown leadership was not only wrong, unrealistic and maladaptive but also given the report of history, dangerous.”

My experience as an executive coach brings me to the same conclusion.  Leaders are struggling to connect with their workforce in a way that brings engagement, personal accountability, loyalty and high levels of results.  This lack of accountability for results is a very frustrating situation for leaders. 

Our past beliefs, and subsequent strategies about leadership are no longer relevant.  There are a number of factors that have brought this about.

Failure of Leaders

Some of our most revered political leaders and corporate CEOs have been caught in outright lies that have undermined the credibility and trust we have traditionally bestowed upon them.  These leadership failures have created a backdrop of cynicism and doubt amongst the broader group of followers.

 “Pay Less, Get More” Mentality

The next factor is the extremely high expectations of consumers.  As consumers, we expect high levels of deliverables from everywhere we exchange our time and money.  With the advent of warehouse stores, major discounters selling everything, we expect to “pay less and get more.” In fact, that is one of the most successful and popular marketing slogans in retail.  This mindset spills over into the employee/employer relationship.  People want to give less and be paid more. Deep down I would like to think that people are fair and are willing to have a fair exchange for their time for money but they get caught in the cultural drift of “give less, get more” mentality.  

Get a Trophy for Just Showing Up

Let’s layer on another dynamic.  I do not know if you have raised children lately, but we started giving trophies just for participating on a team.  This new cultural norm has created an expectation of reward and recognition for just showing up.  There are bodies of research now revealing that this may not be the best approach in terms of teaching young people how to work hard and achieve something.  Parents are afraid to let their children feel anything other than “success” and they have no idea how to deal with adversity or disappointments that might come their way as adults.  They expect to be promoted to vice president within a couple of years after college. 

People Want More Satisfaction and Meaning

In a recent poll by the Conference Board, the 90 year old business research organization, it appears that job satisfaction is at an all time low.  This is another indication that our current forms of leadership are not creating work environments that have people satisfied and engaged.

As we look at the cultural context of leadership today we see a shift occurring in the employee-employer relationship. Cultural context is the background of experiences and beliefs that are shaping our collective thinking.  This is the cultural context in which business is done today.  We have four dynamics:

  • Cynicism due to major leadership failures
  • Give less be paid more mentality
  • Reward and recognition for just showing up
  • People want more satisfaction and meaning

 How easy it must have been in the days of leadership 50 years ago!  “Work hard, don’t complain and you’re lucky to have a job.”  Well, ladies and gentleman, we are not in Kansas anymore.

So, it is really not the end of leadership, but leadership as we know it is no longer effective.  So, what type of leadership is best suited for today’s business world?

Coaching CEOs About The End of Leadership

Most of the CEOs and Executives I’m coaching from Bangor, Maine to Phoenix, Arizona (and all points in between) are wrestling with the same struggle: how to connect with and motivate today’s workforce! Most are frustrated and perplexed with this dilemma. Even in this difficult economic cycle many are still experiencing what appears to be low levels of urgency, personal commitment and responsibility. Why is that? Are they poor leaders? 

I think it’s the end of leadership.  Leadership, as we’ve known it, for sure!  The days of blindly following the command and control leader are gone!  It must have been nice (and easy) to be a leader back then!  You could mandate that 100 widgets get produced per day, per worker, with no overtime, whether they like it or not.

The truth is, that today’s workers are skeptical about blind loyalty.  Do you blame them?  Look at what happened with Enron and other corporate meltdowns that resulted in loyal long-term employees losing everything that they had invested (both time and emotional energy) in the business.

Combine that with the 9/11 event, and people are more focused on enjoying the moment and looking out for themselves.  That doesn’t mean you can’t find and attract hard-working, committed employees.  It just means you’ve got to be much more creative and adaptive as a leader. You need to have a high level of emotional intelligence.

So we start with a skeptical workforce and add the fact that we all operate in increasingly competitive and complex markets. The need for high levels of personal commitment and focus is greater than ever. High level performance is critical for long-term survival.

I believe there is one form of leadership that is most appropriate today for producing high levels of performance and business results. I’m calling it a “coaching leader“.  This new form of leader knows how to connect with, inspire, and hold accountable the new kind of workforce.  The coach, in collaboration with the team, creates a vision and a culture that breeds an atmosphere of personal commitment, high performance and a focus on both business results and personal reward.

Don’t misunderstand me.  The coaching leader still has some of the elements of the older forms of leadership.  At times he or she has to act like a manager and make sure certain things get done.  Sometimes they act more like a mentor and help people learn a new technique.  But the coaching leader has high emotional intelligence, great personal discipline and integrity and consistently builds loyal and committed followers.

What kind of leader are you?  Are you trying to be the old command-and-control leader?  Or are you one of the many CEOs I’m coaching that is a bit confused and frustrated with today’s workforce?

Have you considered becoming a “coaching leader“?