Management is broken. It was a great invention of industrial civilization that gave people with no or ordinary leadership traits tools to organize the activities of others. Over the last decade or two it became clear: management doesn't work anymore. Changes are too fast and too big for the most efficient and well trained managers to cope with them. The answer seemed to be pretty obvious: we need to develop more leaders.
Eight years ago I started a project intended to develop and make available to everyone a kit of leadership tools. It was based on an assumption that leadership can be learned same way as management could. I met and interviewed hundreds of great business leaders, elaborated based on their example a comprehensive list of leadership competencies. Same competencies were repeated with great consistently in each leader's profile. I was happy to see it but it was unclear to how great extend they were developed and to how great extend just inherited or given with birth? It was the first hard question my interviews couldn't answer. The second one was even harder. All leaders I talked to were keen and eager to talk about competencies they had hard times to develop - and all these competencies were about listening to other, being humble, giving others opportunity to express themselves, empowering other people, etc. I would call them anti leadership competencies rather than traditional traits we associate with strong leaders. In other words I dealt mostly with naturally born leaders who had to unlearn some of old leadership bad habits and relearn the anti leadership competencies to be successful in the current turbulent times. Only small fraction of leaders was able to do it.
Ups! We need more leaders to survive the outrageous change but we have even less of them capable to adapt. It seems like a dead end.
Leadership exists as long as the human race. It is a natural trait reinforced by positive feedback loop when the leader successfully influence other people. Each time requires from natural leaders certain adaptation. Our times are no exception. Yet there is one important point: we turned to leadership at the moment when management stopped working with false assumption that leadership can be learned the same way as management could. We groundlessly believed that leadership can replace management. Leadership, soft skills, emotional intelligence became buzzwords of a new mantra of management (leadership) development. With zero outcome unfortunately. Learning leadership is a dead end and a myth that desepts us from the real solution.
The plain truth is clear now. It was very clearly articulated by Peter Drucker in his article “The manager and the moron” more than half a century ago: we need to break down the role of leader (manager) into two parts: thinker-visioner and executor-organizer. The first part can be performed by much more people than the two roles together. The second role should be given to the machine (computer) once and forever. Uber proves it works. AirBnb proves it works. Hundreds of new startups introduce each day uberization of every imaginable type of work. Some attempts fail but many are successful. There’s an Uber for everything as Geoffrey A. Fowler puts it in WSJ. At the core of all successful efforts lays uberization of the major management function - integration - in other words: executors/organizers’ role of managers. The name for the new type of management adequate to the challenges of today and tomorrow is not “leadership”. It is API. APIs fuel the software that is eating the world and it is eating the management executor-organizer function as well. At least according to HBR’s “Here’s How Managers Can Be Replaced by Software” by Devin Fidler.
Leadership is a solution that comes from our past. We can’t rely on an obsolescent tool in building our future. While also outdated by now management wheels are contracting more and more, millions of people around the globe are looking for a simple solution that seems pretty obvious - need for more old good leadership. It is tempting but it’s deceptive as well. Strong leaders still can grab the attention of people and can make them follow. However they lost the ability to organize them well enough to resolve complex problems and to fulfill complicated tasks. They are forced by such inability to set only plain, popular and short term targets, leading themselves and their followers nowhere. Leaders themselves need to change to accommodate to the new reality but very few of them wish and can do it. Becoming more humble contradicts with all the positive feedback loops of their past experience.
We don't need no strong leadership. We don't need no strong leaders. We need interfaces and algorithms. We need programmers of the world who can imagine the future and give the machine clear instructions of how to assemble it.
Our world still need a crucially important breed of leaders however. The naturally born leaders, which have the brain, heart and guts to learn how to be humble and to develop this skill. They are the interim managers of the future, which are absolutely useful and required to secure successful transition from pyramids of yesterday topped with a single leader and powered by managers to flat networks of tomorrow programmed by imagination of visionaries and powered by the machine. After fulfilling this extremely crucial and challenging mission humble leaders of today will move into the new role of visionaries-programmers of tomorrow. Or maybe the machine will take the humble leaders' role too as Katherine Barr proposed in HBR recently?
The mission of our project stay intact: to improve the quality of management. The way how we will try to achieve it has been changed. We don’t invite everyone any more to learn how to become a leader. Now we invite only outstanding leaders to learn how to become humble. How to become leaders who are good to(2) work with.