The dissident leader

I found this quote in my notes. And it coincides with my current reading of Tomas Sedlacek‘s Economics of Good and Evil. Sedlacek was an economic advisor to Vaclav Havel. Although I have not finished reading the book, I can already recommend it. More on the book and its thesis in a future post.

[Vaclav] Havel embodied the guidelines of creative defense with wit, wisdom, and the shortcomings of a man. He inspired people with a bold algorithm, a mantra really: living in truth. In an era of cryptic truths, so too was the very notion of “living in truth”. After 1989, he became the first anti-political president of the Czech Republic and the planet; he remains so to this day the bearer of a political legacy not so much shrouded in failure as indifference to power. Yet, he was never powerless, not for a moment.

Who in New York, Baku, or its affiliate, well-to-do cities of East and West dares brave the consequence for something greater than a slogan, or greater than themselves? To be a dissident has reached the point of cliché if only because human rights is all too often the case of a competing elites, alienated from “the people”; to be imprisoned does not necessarily mean you speak for human rights, but it does mean, if only for a moment, that you spoke for yourself.

Yet in many societies, this remains a grave crime. To do so creatively, brilliantly, and in a way in which the humor never fades from the voice, the laughter never subsides, and the constant cackle is one that echoes in the executioner’s chamber as opposed to in society, the inmate’s cell and among those who have struggled to know the difference between the two — this is the gift Havel gave.

via The New Inquiry.

Advertisements

Mintzberg: time to think of organizations as communities of cooperation

Our obsession with leadership, of any kind, causes us to build organisations that are utterly dependent on individual initiative. We do not allow them to function as communities. So when they fail, we blame the leader, and seek a better one. Like drug addicts, each time we need a bigger hit.

Consider that ubiquitous organisation chart, with its silly boxes of “top”, and “middle”, and bottom managers. How come we never say “bottom managers”? This is no more than a distorted metaphor. It tells us that we are fixated on who has authority over what and whom. The painting may not be the pipe, but to most of us, the chart has become the organisation.

Isn’t it time to think of our organisations as communities of cooperation, and in so doing put leadership in its place: not gone, but alongside other important social processes.

[O]bsession with leadership is the cause of many of the world’s problems. [L]et us get rid of the cult of leadership, striking at least one blow at our increasing obsession with individuality. Not to create a new cult around distributed leadership, but to recognize that the very use of the word leadership tilts thinking toward the individual and away from the community. We don’t only need better leadership, we also need less leadership.

via FT.com.

When is the last time you saw such a CEO?

Vaclav Havel, leader surréaliste

J’ai lu quelque part une phrase d’Arthur Miller qui dit que c’était « le premier président surréaliste au monde », est-ce une bonne définition ?

« Oui, il est toujours resté un homme. C’était délicieux de le voir dans une négociation importante en tant que président, il a toujours su s’adresser à ses partenaires d’une manière tellement amicale et même avec de l’humour. Cela a fait son succès, non seulement ses belles idées qu’il savait énoncer mais également son attitude amicale, toujours avec ce léger sourire, parfois avec de l’humour. Son autorité ne s’imposait jamais. »

via Radio Prague.

Mintzberg: Who Will Fix the US Economy?

The place to start is America’s executive suites, which should be cleared of mercenaries in order to encourage real leadership. That is the easy part: get rid of the obscene compensation packages and watch the mercenaries disappear. People who care about building and sustaining decent enterprises – and who understand that doing so is a team exercise ­– can then take over. (…)

Public support should be shifted from protecting large established corporations to encouraging the growth of newer enterprises. And startups should be discouraged from rushing into the embrace of the stock market’s short-sighted analysts and many an established corporation should be encouraged to escape that embrace. At the same time, regulation and taxation should be used to rein in disruptive day trading and other exploitative speculation that crowds out sustainable investment and disrupts regular business activities.

Above all, what the American economy needs now are managers who know and care about their businesses. Armies of MBAs who have been trained to manage everything in general but nothing in particular are part of the problem, not the solution.

via Project Syndicate.

Henry Mintzberg on heroic managers

The notion that “change comes from the top,” Mintzberg declares, is a fallacy “driven by ego,” the “cult of heroic management,” and the peculiarly American overemphasis on taking action. If companies in fact depended on dramatic, top-down change, few would survive. Instead, most organizations succeed because of the small change efforts that begin at the middle or bottom of the company and are only belatedly recognized as successful by senior management.

[missing paragraph is copied below]

Mintzberg argues that the best kind of leader doesn’t try to effect much change. Rather, she functions like a queen bee, which “does nothing but make babies and exude a chemical that keeps everything together.” It is the other bees that busy themselves in going out to sense the environment, find sources of sustenance for the hive, and make the changes necessary to keep the hive alive in the face of an evolving environment. [via HBS Working Knowledge]

In his book “Managers, not MBAs” Mintzberg suggests that

business schools should produce not heroic managers but “engaging managers.” These are leaders who assist those under them, seek input from everyone when forming strategy, and reward everyone when the organization succeeds. [via]

From an interview with Mintzberg:

We’ve long been dominated by calculating managers, right back to Robert McNamara, ex-Ford president and Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam war, and his obsession with numbers. Then there was ITT and Harold Geneen with all his numbers. Now it’s in the form of shareholder value. Everybody is looking at the stock price every few hours. It is like playing tennis and watching the scoreboard instead of the ball. That is the calculating manager.

Heroic managers are ultimately not much different but they think they are artists, they think they are very creative. So they come out with these strategies like at Vivendi, AOL Time Warner, or AT&T. They come out with all these lovely looking strategies, which ultimately are not that interesting. I call them pretend artists. These are the heroic managers, engaging in the great massive mergers, with all the drama that entails.

Finally we have the style I prefer, which I call engaging. This is where managers and chief executives first go about engaging themselves. They know the industry. They know the people. They are committed to the company. They are not there for a few years just to drive up stock prices and run off with their bonuses. And by engaging themselves, they engage other people.

So how do you recognize a heroic manager?

Mintzberg says that they tend to:

  • Ignore the existing business because anything established takes time to fix.
  • Be dramatic, striking deals and merging like mad.
  • Focus on the present, and do the dramatic deal now!
  • Favour outsiders over insiders; rely on consultants as they appreciate heroic leaders.
  • Use numbers to assess insiders. That way you do not have to manage performance so much as deem it.
  • Promote the changing of everything all the time.
  • Re-organise constantly.
  • Be a risk taker.
  • Get the stock price up.
  • Cash in and run — heroes are in great demand.

For a long while, the embodiment of the heroic manager was Jack Welch and I documented elsewhere in this blog how his management rules are no longer followed in industry.

And just to show that management gurus do not know it all, here is (in Mintzberg’s own words) the missing paragraph that I announced at the top of this post:

Enron, with its “loose-tight” management policy, is an example of an organization that has figured out how to effect change without the usual pitfalls, says Mintzberg. The Houston-based energy company manages only two corporate processes very tightly: performance evaluation and risk management. Everything else is managed loosely, and local leaders get an enormous amount of discretion in figuring out how to get things done.

Henry Mintzberg’s website is here.

Leadership: use with caution

Here is a good place to start to sort out the various perspectives and viewpoints on the concept and practice of leadership.

Here is a slideshow that reviews leadership theories in the 20th century.