Monday, November 01, 2004

Just enough L.

Henry Mintzberg argues in HBR of November 2004 that in many companies there exists a cult of L. that is dragging business down. These companies embrace the notion of the single, isolated leader who is supposed to charge heroically ahead, formulating the grand strategies, making the tough decisions, pulling off the great mergers, while downsizing left and right.

That is not to say Mintzberg does not recognize the importance of being engaged. Leaders engage others by, above all, engaging themselves. But he says leaders should care a lot more than they cure, connect a lot more than they control, and demonstrate a lot more than they decide. He calls this "Just enough L." or appropriate L., supporting the direction setting of others. A participative L. style.

I believe many modern CEO's will sympathize towards Mintzberg's thinking of moving a bit more to the democratic side of the L. continuum. However a complication Mintzberg does not mention in his short article is that mass media and certain shareholder groups may push leaders into unwanted heroic L. roles. Leaders should consider once they give in to this, even in a specific situation, it might be difficult to assume a democratic role in other circumstances. Heroic L. works like Opium of the People.