Monday, November 10, 2008

Why we need to develop leaders

Happy Monday everyone! I know we did not have too much time to discuss the readings from the past couple of weeks on creativity and leaders as teachers, so I just wanted to share some of my thoughts. Regardless of the theory a company uses, creativity and teaching are essential for success. Unfortunately, the United States is currently feeling the lingering effects of a leadership crisis stemming from the post-World War II era and the incredible economic success which allowed the country to have a sense of complacency. Meanwhile, other countries around the world were struggling to develop new strategies for overtaking the hegemon that the United States became.
I recently read Jay Conger and Beth Benjamin’s book, Building Leaders: How Successful Companies Develop the Next Generation (1999), in which they discuss how after World War II, many industries in the United States’ have operated under the theory that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” and consequently allowed leaders to maintain the status quo and not worry about thinking creatively to grow their organizations. Certainly some corporations have served as the exception, but overall, the majority of the United States did not see the need for leadership development when everything was going so well. It appears that many companies took Philip Selznick’s concept of leadership seriously when he asserts that “leadership is not equally necessary in all large-scale organizations, or in any one at all times” (Selznick, 1957). Notice that his writing was printed in the 1950’s, the same time in American history when this theory seemed to resonate with people. Many people in our class seemed to disagree with this assertion, but many companies chose to believe that during their successful years, “visionary leadership” was not necessary.
In regards to the idea of leaders as teachers, it is interesting to note that this idea first appeared in the 1930’s as America was desperately searching for leadership in the recovery from the Great Depression, and now appears again in recent times as America seeks to reclaim its dominant role in the international arena. The readings on leadership as creativity and innovation also come from the past decade and highlight Japanese companies as today’s most prolific innovators. It is certainly relieving to see that America realizes its blunder and with all of the leadership development emphasis that is occurring in the corporate world, is actively trying to remedy the problem.
Nearly all of the researchers mention setting a vision as one of the key tasks of a leader, and this is especially true in creative leadership. There is nothing creative about maintaining the status quo. Creativity needs to be nurtured and protected as shown in Richard Florida and Jim Goodnight’s description of SAS, as well Beer, Khurana, and Weber’s study of Hewlett-Packard. Something that has become apparent throughout all of the different themes is the inter-connectedness of these leadership components. Creativity is promoted through culture, and culture is determined by the vision the leader sets for the company. The vision and culture can only flourish if the followers allow them to, and that no one vision is well-suited for every situation, as is clearly demonstrated by Carly Fiorina. However, very few if any people can see all of this without some sort of training or leadership helping to reveal it to them. The importance of the leaders as teachers in helping to develop others enables the future leaders to understand this more fully.

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