Supervisory Leadership

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Leadership Nonsense

Most books about leadership and organizational effectiveness don't offer much that's new, but they do offer some of the same nonsense over and over again. Here are a few of the things I keep reading that really pull my chain.

"We've got to make our workers happy so they'll be productive." I've searched for years and I can't find evidence to support that. I can find evidence for the statement that: "Productive workers are more likely to be happy workers"

In other words, concentrate on doing the things that make folks productive and they're more likely to be happy at work. As it turns out, we know how to do that. Gallup's research and my own years of consulting and training convince me that your immediate boss has the biggest impact on whether you're productive and satisfied at work.

Now for another one: "We need more leaders." Another version of this is: "We need more leaders and less managers."

Nonsense. We've got plenty of leaders.

If you're in a job where you're responsible for the performance of a group, then you're a leader because the folks who work for you treat you that way. They listen to what you say. They watch what you do. And what you say and what you do influences what the folks who work for you do and say.

You don't have a choice about this. The only choice you have is whether you're going to be a good leader or not. You also don't have a choice about whether you'll be a manager and a supervisor.

When you become responsible for the performance of a group you get all three jobs. Supervision work involves individuals and tasks. Management work involves groups and achieving assigned priorities. Leadership work involves purpose and direction.

You can be the CEO of the largest corporation on the planet and you'll still have people to supervise. At that level we call them "direct reports." You can be the most junior first line supervisor on the factory floor and you still have to provide purpose and direction for your people.

Here's another statement about leadership that makes me crazy. "Great leaders make great organizations." It's true that great leaders can have a hand in making an organization great, but they don't do it alone and they've got to be around a long time to really have any permanent impact.

What I'm sure is true is that great organizations produce great leaders. Think of the US Marines. Think of General Electric (GE). Jack Welch had an impact on that organization for sure, but he was CEO for more than twenty years.

What's more impressive is the impact GE had on Jack Welch. In his career he got guidance and challenges, opportunities and support. Would Welch have been successful somewhere else? Probably. Would Welch have been as successful elsewhere as he was at GE? I doubt it.

Finally there's that perennial favorite: "We want to convince our people to take risks." The argument for this bit of nonsense seems to be that if folks take more risks by trying new things, then organizations will be more productive and prosperity will reign. That's wrongheaded.

Only a small part of the population is willing to take risks and they're probably going to take them no matter what kind of organization they work for. They'll go right on trying new things.

To get the great mass of the folks who work for you to try new things, you have to remove the risk of doing so. If people can try something that doesn't work and not get zapped, they'll keep trying. But if they know that there's a possibility of getting zapped, or if they see others getting zapped when their ideas don't work, lots of folks won't try anything new at all.

You won't find a lot of this in the latest business books. It's far easier to talk about seeking the magic stone of worker satisfaction than it is to create a great working environment.

It's far easier to bemoan a lack of leaders than it is to hold the leaders already in your organization accountable for their leadership and give them the support they need to perform as effective leaders, managers and supervisors.

It's far easier to search for the magic CEO to transform the organization instead of doing the hard work of creating an organization that grows great leaders.

And it's certainly far easier to try to come up with a communications program that will attempt to persuade people to take risks than it is to take the risk out of trying new things.

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I believe that leadership is, in part, an apprentice trade. We learn to lead by watching how great leaders do things. Fortunately, we're not limited to our own experience. Books of history and biography can show us examples and teach us lessons. Here's a selection of books that I think are especially good.

While all of these resources are good, I've marked with an asterisk (*) the ones I think are must reading.

Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge by Warren G. Bennis and Burt Nanus

Geeks and Geezers by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas

Leading Minds: An Anatomy Of Leadership by Howard Gardner

At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight D. Eisenhower

*Nineteen Stars: A Study in Military Character and Leadership by Edgar Puryear

*Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

The Art of Managing People by Tony Alessandra

Grant by Jean Edward Smith

Leadership by Rudolph W. Giuliani

*The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

*Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins

If you'd like to dig more into my thinking on leadership, you'll find a list of leadership articles on my website.


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