Why Our Leadership System is Flawed

by on April 11, 2010 | posted in Uncategorized

There’s an errant problem with the way we think about leaders.

To some, a leader is conceptualized as a person that, singularly, takes charge of large groups of individuals, inspires  change, and has a strong command on a group of others that follow him or her. This is limiting and often wrong. Leaders, as we think about them, do not have to (and shouldn’t) be thought of as a separate concept from the group.

Great leaders are capable of taking charge, of doing without being told, of inciting change, of saying “no”, and are capable of criticism and compliment. This can exist outside the hierarchical archetypes we create, and it does so rather frequently.

Some of the best internet companies, SEOMoz, 37 signals, & Outspoken Media, are all composed entirely of these leaders, people who exist within a triumvirate, or more, of thought challengers who are capable of both leading conversation and promoting it, saying no and saying yes, and being able to drop ego to ergo. These leaders are not structured based on “I’m in front of you”, they’re based on a “We’re all in front” ideology.

This is in direct opposition of bad leaders. A characteristic of bad leaders that makes the leader-group system impossible is that bad leaders are incapable of being challenged. They take criticism poorly and let ego substitute for ergo. This system creates a business architecture based on one person’s viewpoint, and overall lowers company morale and productivity. This system is structurally flawed and will create a company based on fear, as well as one without innovation.

My ideal company, and how I hope Single Grain continues is at grows, is as a company full of great leaders. I am immensely appreciative of our founder, Sujan Patel, for his acceptance of many of my thought-challenging qualities, even though, in our hierarchical chart, I sit beneath him.

We work, and Single Grain works, because I can accept his opinion, and him mine, and we bounce off one another. When this exchange does not exist, the company suffers. Improvement lags. Morale drops.

Have you asked the people you manage “What do you think?” today? There’s more than just hoping great leadership exists in someone – it also takes a strong effort to encourage it and grow it out of people. Tom Peters said in his book “The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence”, that at the end of our own careers, the only real thing we can be judged on is how we helped others develop and grow.

I agree completely.

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