In this post Robert Keating, an experienced former CEO and current Peoplemax executive coach, takes us on a tour of leadership theories over the last five decades and asks a crucial question - what has changed?
Leadership has been widely discussed, studied, commented on and written about from time immemorial. However over the last fifty years the intensity of focus and scrutiny on every individual who has a leadership role from the smallest social group to the largest global organisation has increased exponentially. This has been driven by unprecedented access to information as a result of the technological revolution.
Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke recently commented that the problem with the world today is there are no real stand out leaders. If this is true generally, it is a sad indictment on society with all that is known, taught and published on leadership today.
In the late 19th Century Fredrick Taylor was given the title "Father of Scientific Management" as organisations sought to increase productivity and output. Elton Mayo in the first half of the 20th Century started the Human Relations Movement. However, many old adages from the post industrial revolution still persisted through the 1970s. Examples were:
- Leaders are born not made
- There are only four styles of leadership: The iron rod, the velvet glove, the carrot and the stick
- You were labelled as either an autocratic or democratic leader
In Australia, in this era, “worker control” versus the European model of “worker participation” based on the Volvo¹ experiment, was discussed and debated widely at all levels of industry and government. Management training was mostly through good and bad experiences (the sink or swim mentality). Psychometric tests primarily focusing on IQ together with some personality tests were being used extensively for selection. However, little feedback or training was given either to the successful or unsuccessful candidates. Leaders were expected to achieve goals for their organisations but there was little direction or mentoring given on how goals or key performance indicators were achieved and achievement only was rewarded.
However, in the seventies the influence of Peter Drucker who is considered the “Father of Modern Management Theory" started to change and influence the way leadership/management was taught and practiced. Stephen Covey's 1989 book "The 7 Seven Habits of Highly Effective People"² and then Daniel Goleman's 1995 book "Emotional Intelligence" which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 18 months added significantly to the philosophy and practice of Leadership. The Harvard Business Review called emotional intelligence (which discounts IQ as the sole measure of one's abilities) "a revolutionary, paradigm-shattering idea" and chose Goleman's 1998 article "What makes a Leader “³ as one of the ten "must read" articles. Even twenty years on Daniel Goleman’s work is still referenced.
With the wealth of knowledge gained from the research and publications on leadership and management over the last thirty years, better equipped 21st century leaders should be exerting their influence on every facet of society. In hindsight we are able to study in depth as well as appreciate why Napoleon Bonaparte was a great army general but a poor emperor and why Winston Churchill was only a great wartime Prime Minister. Maybe even these world famous leaders were not able to reflect on and enhance their self or social awareness, be flexible enough to anticipate the need to change or adapt rapidly to the situation, the market or the current challenges in a peacetime setting.
I believe we can overcomplicate leadership development and rather than reflect on adopting or enhancing desirable leadership attributes many believe they can become better or great "leaders" in their roles with a quick fix and apply the latest fad, tool or concept from the current best seller.
There also remain many barriers for leaders to excel. Still too often we are exposed to "leaders" who appear not only to be successful, sometimes very successful and richly rewarded monetarily, without practicing leadership attributes that an individual would want to emulate or that society would see as a role model.
I also think that the greatest change in developing and growing leaders has come in the last thirty years with the global trend, which has accelerated since the turn of the century, to focusing on enhancement of desirable leadership competencies to improve performance. This strength-based focus rather than a correctional one of eliminating or reducing individuals' undesirable attributes has been for the betterment of leadership development globally.
To support this change of focus whether you are seeking sustainable change by yourself, with a coach, mentor or as part of a team there have never been more tools or information available to assist leaders to grow themselves and the people they lead. However, one basic human attribute remains fundamental in enhancing leadership: the individual must be self-driven and open to seeking fundamental changes in the way they operate.
A challenge for the next 20 years is to develop more credible leaders who are respected for not only what they achieve but also how they operate in their roles - with integrity, a global mindset and social responsibility focus.
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¹ Team Work in Sweden: http://www.swlearning.com/quant/kohler/stat/resources/applications/app22_3.doc
² “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’: Stephen R.Covey, 1989
³ “What Makes a Leader”: Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review, 1996