Thursday, December 3, 2009

Morgenthaler's view on leadership and management

I am currently the David Morgenthaler Faculty Fellow at Stanford. He sent me a speech he gave at MIT a few years ago and I just read it tonight. It is quite good. Here is a sample:

"Leadership. The word is mentioned and into many people’s minds, an image of a strong personality instantly appears. Certainly a strong personality is often a major factor in leadership.

But leadership is more than a personality. Much more. It is a function – an activity that every group of two or more people experiences. It may be weak, scattered, aimless, drifting, tossed by external events, capricious, tyrannical or even destructive to the health of the group.

Equally it may be strong, clear, far seeing, decisive, effective, and productive of high group morale and attained objectives.

Usually, it is somewhere along a spectrum within the two – with some parts of the function performed well, and other parts needing improvement.

It is highly situational (and shared) – one or more individuals may try to give strong leadership to a group in one situation and do nothing in the next, and the group (including the titular leader), may willingly follow this guidance in one situation, and, as far as possible ignore it in the next.

And different situations call for widely different major contributions from the recognized leaders. For Gandhi or Mandela principal contributions had to be image, establishing values, and keeping visions and motivations alive. For Roosevelt before World War II, a concealed strategic plan implemented while converting the thinking of a reluctant populace was a prime need of the situation. Eisenhower had to combine strategic thinking and personal political skill to lead and manage the combined forces. Patton had to inspire an unquestioning obedience to demanding orders to accomplish things that were nearly physically impossible and get the effort supported by brilliant staff work. Many entrepreneurial managers have to inspire their teams through technical and market failures that would take the heart out of most people, while convincing doubting backers to keep financing them. And turnaround managers often have to ruthlessly cut personnel to the bone if the organization is to survive.

A realistic appraisal of the leadership function is that many different individuals may contribute the leadership to any particular situation, though perhaps having nothing to do with the next. The CEO’s job is to SEE that leadership happens, not necessarily to perform the task himself/herself. Whatever can be appropriately delegated should be, but the necessary amount of inspection to assure quality must be performed."