Leadership Fantasies

Predictions about leadership in 2030:

The management consulting firm Hay Group worked with the German futurists at Z-Punkt to identify six mega trends such as globalization, technology convergence and the individualization of careers that will shape the kind of leaders companies will need in the future. I spoke with Georg Vielmetter, Hay Group’s regional director of leadership and talent, about the newly released study “Leadership 2030” that he co-authored. …

I think that positional power and hierarchical power will become smaller. Power will shift to stakeholders, reducing the authority of the people who are supposed to lead the organization. … The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who gives direction to everybody and sets the pace, whom everybody follows because this person is so smart and intelligent and clever — this time is over. We need a new kind of leader who focuses much more on relationships and understands that leadership is not about himself. …

Such a leader doesn’t doesn’t put himself at the very center. He knows he needs to listen to other people. He knows he needs to be intellectually curious and emotionally open. He knows that he needs empathy to do the job, not just in order to be a good person. … We will see a significant decline in physical loyalty between people and organizations. It will be very difficult for leaders to formally bind people to their organizations, so they should not try. This is a battle that leaders can only lose. … What is clear is that leaders in the future need to have a full understanding, and also an emotional understanding, of diversity. That’s for sure. (more)

I call bull. Here’s Jeffrey Pfeffer, in Power:

Most books by well-known executives and most lectures and courses about leadership should be stamped CAUTION: THIS MATERIAL CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR ORGANIZATIONAL SURVIVAL. That’s because leaders touting their own careers as models to be emulated frequently gloss over the power plays they actually used to get to the top. Meanwhile, the teaching on leadership is filled with prescriptions about following an inner compass, being truthful, letting inner feelings show, being modest and self-effacing, not behaving in a bullying or abusive way— in short, prescriptions about how people wish the world and the powerful behaved. There is no doubt that the world would be a much better, more humane place if people were always authentic, modest, truthful, and consistently concerned for the welfare of others instead of pursuing their own aims. But that world doesn’t exist.

More from Pfeffer last November:

Today’s work world is increasingly populated by millennials with values presumably different from more-senior employees—more egalitarian, less competitive, more meritocratic, less accepting of hierarchy, and more tolerant of all forms of diversity. And if that’s true, surely companies are changing, which means we need new theories about power and influence to reflect these new cultural realities. Strategically expressing anger, building a power base, or eliminating rivals are considered outmoded ways of getting ahead. Certainly, the reasoning goes, in a world where reputations get created and transmitted quickly and anonymously through ubiquitous social networks, people who resort to such bad behavior will suffer swift retribution.

The typical Silicon Valley recruitment pitch, or something to this effect, reinforces this view: “We’re not political here. We’re young, cool, socially networked, hip, high-technology people focused on building and selling great products. We’re family-friendly, have fewer management levels and less hierarchy, and make decisions collegially.”

Unfortunately there’s not much evidence of change but plenty of testimony to the contrary: the power struggles that beset the founding of Twitter (TWTR), the turnover among CEOs at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), and the experiences of former Stanford MBA students working in the supposedly egalitarian world of high tech who have lost their jobs or been thrown out of companies they founded notwithstanding their intelligence and good job performance. Meanwhile, relationships with bosses still go a long way to predict people’s career success; organizational gossip lives on; and career derailment still awaits those who fail to master political dynamics. (more)

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  • TheBrett

    I laugh when I read those, too. The fundamental structure for most corporations, in the form of hierarchical and authoritarian command-economies-in-miniature, hasn’t changed much at all. Why would the internal politics change?

    If you want a more egalitarian company, you need a more egalitarian corporate structure, without the traditional bureaucratic hierarchy. Cooperatives that elect their managers (or elect to hire them, or elect people who hire them) might do that, although the largest the cooperative becomes, the more you’ll start to see traditional power dynamics return.

    In any case, what I’m really hoping for is that by 2030, we’ll have busted the Myth of the Super CEO Who Revolutionizes The Whole Company. The amount of CEOs who do that is very, very small.

    • IMASBA

      “In any case, what I’m really hoping for is that by 2030, we’ll have busted the Myth of the Super CEO Who Revolutionizes The Whole Company.”

      One can only hope, but I doubt that’ll happen naturally. The overestimation of the performance of people at key positions, as well as the belief that these people can impact organization performance much in a positive way (it’s easy to sink an ok-doing organization, it’s nearly impossible to make it run much better by changing the decisions of one key person, the rest is coincidence and the work of the peons) is rooted deeply into human nature. I’m afraid that in 2030 we’ll still have organizations paying people in key positions multi-million dollar/euro salaries.

      • The overestimation of the performance of people at key positions … is rooted deeply into human nature

        Why do you think so?

        Do foragers manifest this overestimation? I doubt it.

      • IMASBA

        Well, I think it’s a result of the human mind always trying to see causality, even when there is only random correlation. A bit the same way superstitions arise and foragers are not immune to those. People in key positions are the most visible parts of an organization and our minds tend to see causal links between what these people do and how the organization as a whole fares, I believe foragers would do too. In some ways there also really is a causal link, that this has often more to do with the position than the merits of the person tends to get overlooked (if an organization is built in such a way that everything has to pass a central nexus to be rubber stamped then the organization depends on that nexus and the nexus might use this to justify an extravagant salary, but one has to wonder if that nexus is actually necessary and if it is, how difficult it is to be be sufficiently good at being a nexus, those latter aspects are usually overlooked in every defense of megasalaries and bonuses that I’ve come across).

  • Daublin

    While we’re fantasizing about alternate corporate structures that are nowhere in evidence, what do we actually want?

    There’s a power curve for skill, and it is typically going to make a corporation perform better if you put the best people in charge and get everyone else to row in the direction they specify.

    Anecdotally, the more congenial efforts I’ve encountered have been poisoned by poor performance. You still have to make decisions for the group, and if you don’t defer to the people who are best at it, you are going to make the decision some other way. You still have all the bitterness of people being outvoted, but now you are making worse decisions as well. It’s not an improvement.

    • anon

      For organizations with well-defined, verifiable goals, you can use decision markets. Even play-money decision markets – which basically award decision-making power to folks who make good decisions and are most willing to put their reputational currency on the line for them.

  • Annonny

    Isn’t it more likely that success comes to those who give millenials the illusion of control and autonomy within a hierarchical system? E.g. Google gets aggresive elites to be happy doing menial tasks.

  • Ronfar

    “When you manage, you direct resources where they are most needed. When you lead, you direct resources to yourself. Therefore, leadership is preferable to management.” – Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook

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