Are Today’s Business Heroes Challenging
Our Ideas About Leadership?
Our Ideas About Leadership?
By James Heskett, published on hbswk.hbs.edu., 06/02/2014
Is There Really a Formula for Great Leadership? The overall sense of responses to our question for the month is that the leadership stars of today—Jobs, Bezos, Gates, etc.,—should not cause us to change our time-honored ideas about great leadership. Among the notions advanced were that they: (1) are special, (2) are entrepreneurs first and leaders second, (3) or represent a kind of leadership important for only one phase of the longer-term development of a business. Comments did suggest, however, that some ideas about leadership can benefit from a reexamination.
Tema Frank addressed a couple of these points when she said, "The fact that we can name so few leaders as readily as the ones cited in the article is because they are exceptions. There is no question that brilliant, strongly mission-driven founders can inspire people to follow them, despite personality flaws." Once the excitement fades, a different type of leadership is essential. Bill Eickhoff would compare Jobs, Bezos, etc. to Ford, Edison, etc. "No one ever raves about their so-called 'leadership' style. These men were outliers. Their style is not duplicable."
Kim Forbes set forth an interesting hypothesis in commenting that "We will always be able to identify examples of leaders that 'buck' the now orthodox definition of the balanced, emotionally intelligent, people-focused leader the likes of Gates and Jobs may have highly effective leaders below them and they are the true heroes of these large successful corporations, in spite of their dysfunctional 'leadership'."
Today's leadership heroes, however, stimulated debate about just what constitutes leadership. It is an important discussion, as several pointed out. Paul Stavrand put it this way: "We need to be concerned about the outcomes of business practices and products on our global society, and evaluate leaders accordingly." Yadeed Lobo commented that "the mark of a great leader is the impression they leave on any employee." G. P. Rao added that the lack of humility and leadership appear to be inconsistent, if not contradictory. "In the ultimate analysis, however everything boils down to perception of the team members or subordinates or followers of the leader concerned."
The importance of maintaining an open mind on the subject of leadership was stressed by several. Ronnie Kavuma commented that, "I think that there is a place for both kinds of leaders and/or their schools of thought in the modern high tech and versatile business environment." David Wittenberg said that an "effective leader must be true to himself. Personalities differ, so leadership styles differ. It is a common fallacy that there is only one style that leads to leadership success." Pradip Shroff added: "The simple fact is that leadership is an art and science of blending various styles based on the situation." Yan Song summed up this point by commenting that, "Stereotyping leadership might be the greater danger here. Evolution neither begins nor ends with current crops of leaders. In all practical situations, one needs a mixture of different leadership styles to induce human energy ? " Jerry Houser advised us to consider that "understanding leadership means understanding the emotions of leaders and followers. Brain science is making me question much of the literature I've read on leadership."