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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Top of page
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.
Strategies for Taking Charge by Warren G. Bennis and Burt Nanus
and Geezers by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas
Minds: An Anatomy Of Leadership by Howard Gardner
Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Stars: A Study in Military Character and Leadership by Edgar Puryear
Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
Art of Managing People by Tony Alessandra
by Jean Edward Smith
by Rudolph W. Giuliani
Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
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. http://www.bockinfo.com/artleadership.htm
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