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The ‘Red Bull’ of management thinkers, Tom Peters, said that leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders. And he’s right. There is no point having inspirational performance and flare if you can’t be effective and reliable. Leadership is entering a new age, and a recent article in the Financial Times by Herminia Ibarra from INSEAD makes an astute observation that the time has come for leaders to roll their sleeves up.
Leadership theories have focused on different things over time. At the start of the 20th century, personal traits of successful leaders were most important. The ‘60s saw a move towards situational leadership and a focus on context: ‘command and control’ for large manufacturing companies and ‘collegial collaboration’ for small, knowledge organisations. The focus turned back to the individual in the ‘90s as organizations became more complex. It was then that a clear distinction between manager (leading on process and procedure) and leader (leading on change) was established.
Today’s environment requires leaders to be inspiring and mobilising, while strategizing and architecting processes and procedures. The details (and getting into them) are no longer just the domain of a ‘boring’ manager role. In fact, boring simply doesn’t apply – efficient systems and robust controls carry value that inspirational messaging and charisma simply can’t.
Leaders who simply ‘talk the talk’ create followers, while true leaders create more leaders by leading by example. Sometimes that might mean providing vision and inspiration in a traditional way, but more often than not it means getting involved and showing how things should be done.