What are the universal truths about leadership?  How can organizations get their arms around such great concepts to better leverage organizational success and competitive advantage in the marketplace?  While John Kotter and John Maxwell may disagree, I tend to side more with Marchus Buckingham, given the ideas coming from his book, The One Thing You Need to Know About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success.  That is, there is not one single idea, or group of ideas, that will eventually lead to success and fully engaged leadership in every organization.

Early Attempts

It is not my intent to communicate that the work of leaders and consultants has not led to new knowledge and paradigms.   What I am saying is that we have worked too much on leadership applications, and not taken the deep dive to better understand the theory and assumptions that drive our leadership practices.

In addition, there is a growing body of research and management opinion encouraging us put greater effort into building the next generation of management theory and practice.  Fredrick Taylor and the industrial revolution have long outlived their usefulness, and still, many companies and organizations cling to his ideals and constructs.

Decades Later

Incredible ideas came out of industry from the work of Fredrick Taylor and those who pursued a deeper understanding of his work.  From this work came Scientific Management.  Later, came Kurt Lewin and Douglas McGregor, who sought to add more from the social sciences as they looked at large scale change and the contrasting assumptions of people in the workforce – Theory X & Theory Y.

These management scientists contributed greatly to our understanding of leadership and organizational development, as well as many others too numerous to mention.  Still, in the last 50 years, what have we contributed to this body of knowledge? 

We have tools, enterprise software, training programs and more leadership books than a person could ever read.  Buyers of our trade have encouraged us to think of solutions and gotten a lot of consultants into the mode of servicing the quick fix.  This is and has been a mistake.  We have been seduced by the economics available to us.

Success is not the revenue generated into our industry, it instead, should be the innovation and greater understanding of our management practice.  It is time again for a new wave of innovation of management theory and practice.  Better theory, leads to more effective practices, which in turn leads to client success, which finally leads to the new knowledge that spawns the next generation of management practice.

As the time honored management consultant Pogo is often quoted as saying, “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

Insight and Contributions

Many authors and management scientists have given us relevant and useful managment concepts.  What follows is a short list of those which I have found to be profound in my growth as a professional consultant.  Feel free to share additional contributors by responding to this blog.  There are many others.

  • Continuous Improvement – Deming and a wide range of business improvement experts have shared the importance of defining and continuously improving work processes, so that our organizations can continue to be competitive.
  • Learning Organizations – Peter Senge gained wide acclaim for his insights on systems thinking and learning organizations through his book, The Fifth Discipline.
  • Strategic Planning – Who embodies the art and science of strategic planning and competition more than Michael Porter.
  • Strengths-based Managment – Marcus Buckingham is still moving business leaders and consultants with his continued writing on strength-based management.
  • Recognition – There have been many contributors to the ideas surrounding the value of recognition at work; however, I believe this is one of the primary legacies of Ken Blanchard, will be the value and practice of recognition in today’s organizations.
  • The Practice of Management – While management and leadership are mainstays of our vocabulary, no one author has given such insight and contribution to their application as Peter in his ground-breaking book, The Practice of Management (1954).
  • Leadership – If Drucker is the essential voice of management, his counterpart to leadership is Warren Bennis.  Still working today, Bennis has been the enduring voice for the past four decades.
  • Change – There are many experts who focus on the topic and methodology of change; however, do you remember who first brought the concept to businesses and orgnations decades ago.  If I’m not mistaken, it was Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who introduced it unconventionally through the illustration of death and dying.

There are many others to be included.  Again, I’m interested in having you sharing your thoughts of who should be in this elite list of contributors.  Please respond and let me know who else to include, and what topic of contribution they are most known for.

My Perspective – Leadership Truths

I believe that a silver bullet does not exist.  There is not any one concept or idea that is robust enough to be the be all and end all in management science and leadership practice.

I believe that exposure to great leaders and thinkers is exteremely valuable.  It helps shape our thoughts and ideas as we apply new and intriguing concepts to what we already know.

I believe that our success is shaped through experience and intuitive discovery.  Each of us has different experiences and predispositions that shape our experiences.  It is through the iterative learning, real experiences and reflective thought that we discover what approach is best for us.

I believe that organizations invest far too little in the development of leaders.  We purchase programs, establish models and send people off to industry conferences, but we do little to help people discover the leader they can become.

I believe their are many paths to success.  The days of telling an individual how to accomplish her or his work should be long behind us.  Nothing is wrong with best practices and standardization; but everything is wrong with micromanagement.

Begin with the End in Mind

And so our short journey has once again come to an end.  While there may never be a silver bullet with respect to effective leadership, there are pathways and collaborative learning to accelerate the journey.  God speed on your individual journey.