“The Lone Ranger is dead. Instead of the individual problem-solver, we have a new model for creative achievement. People like Steve Jobs or Walt Disney headed groups and found their own greatness in them”
Professor Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, Marshall School of Business, USC, provides a blueprint for the new model leader. “He or she is a pragmatic dreamer, a person with an original but attainable vision. Inevitably, the leader has to invent a style that suits the group. The standard models, especially command and control, simply don’t work. The heads of groups have to act decisively, but never arbitrarily. They have to make decisions without limiting the perceived autonomy of the other participants. Devising an atmosphere in which others can put a dent in the universe is the leader’s creative act”.
However, the role of the new model leader is ridden with contradictions. Paradox and uncertainty are increasingly at the heart of leading organisations. A lot of leaders don’t like ambiguity so they try to shape the environment to resolve the ambiguity. This might involve collecting more data or narrowing things down. These may not be the best things to do. The most effective leaders are flexible, responsive to new situations. If they are adept at hard skills, they surround themselves with people who are proficient with soft skills. They strike a balance.
While flexibility is important in this new leadership model, it should not be interpreted as weakness. The two most lauded corporate chiefs of the past decade, Percy Barnevik of Asea Brown Boveri, and Jack Welch of General Electric, dismantled bureaucratic structures using both soft and hard skills. They coach and cajole as well as command and control.
The “leader as coach” is yet another phrase more often seen in business books than in the real world. Acting as a coach to a colleague is not something that comes easily to many executives. It is increasingly common for executives to need mentoring. They need to talk through decisions and to think through the impact of their behaviour on others in the organisation.
In the macho era, support was for failures, but now there is a growing realisation that leaders are human after all, and that leadership is as much a human art as a rational science.
Today’s leaders don’t follow rigid role models but prefer to nurture their own leadership style. They do not do people’s jobs for them or put their faith in developing a personality cult. They regard leadership as drawing people and disparate parts of the organisation together in ways that makes individuals and the organisation more effective.