June 04, 2009

Where did all the big leaders go?

During the LE module, someone raised an intersting question - Why we no longer have big leaders like Nelson Mandela or Gandhi? Leaders that can capture the imagination of an entire nation and motivate a whole country into action. Where did they all go? Why we do not have this type of leaders anymore?

I found that answer in Warren Bennis's book - 'On becoming a leader'. He states that the problems that companies face are significantly more complex than compared to those faced in the past. Therefore, no matter how effective and knowledagble leader is he/she cannot solve today's problems effectively on their own.

Bennis's soultion to today's problems lies with teams of talented individuals with varied knowledge and skils who are lead by an effective leader(s). So, we might not have a BIG LEADER, but effective organisations have at least several effective leaders.


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  1. Amrita

    Yes, I completely agree with Bennis’s solution. I really think that a group of effective leaders will definitely come out with better solutions to most of the problems faced by the companies. Good post.

    With Regards

    04 Jun 2009, 14:06

  2. Just to play the devils advocate / be annoying, I’m not sure I agree with your statement or Bennis’s solution. Regarding no longer having ‘Big Leaders’ it is very easy to look back on the past 100 years worth of leadership and not realise that it is counting for “100 YEARS”. I tihnk we do have two or three of these leaders around TODAY, but its not like in the past we had a surplus of fantastic leaders, history spans quite a long time.

    However, I do agree that leadership on a whole is poor, especially in the business world, and it is an area we should be trying to improve, particularly in the UK. As for problems being more complex than before, I’m not sure I buy this as a reasonable excuse for not having ‘big leaders’. Sure, things may be a little more complex than they used to be, managements job is comparitively harder, but we also have a lot more knowledge than we used to have, and better procedures in place for dealing with things, I personally think that this balances out. In contradiction to your statement, I would say that an effective and knowledgable leader CAN solve todays problems effectively on their own.

    I see your point about teamns of talented individuals, but we have always had teams of skilled individuals. I agree that ideally a company would have several effective leaders within it, but I do not think that this prevents there from being a ‘big leader’ at the helm. If anything, an organisation of effective leaders will require a big leader in order to be effective, else the leaders will not have anyone to emulate, coach them, etc.

    What do you think?

    05 Jun 2009, 08:37

  3. Thank you for the comment, Chris. I do agree with you that complexity of today’s problems is not the only reason why we do not have big leader anymore. As with everything in the world, the reasons are numerous, yet I found this explanation appealing.

    Additionally, you are right it is ‘unfair’ to compare the last 100 yrs with current times, it is not an accurate comparison. However, what Bennis was getting at in his book, was that there a lot of effective leaders out there, doing amazing work, and unless someon does a study about them or their organisation, we do not hear about them. Perhaps, an additional reason for not having big leaders is that there is not enough focus on this people.

    Yes, it is true that there is plenty of information and knowledge out there that leaders can access to enable them to become more effective. Yet time is a major constraint and if you add to this sense of urgency and the ever-changing environment, it becomes challenging to acquire the necessary knowledge to deal with every problem or issue. Take our modules for example, we skim through a lot of topics, and any 1 of them could take weeks or even months to learn completly.

    I agree that a leader needs to be knowledgeable, it would enable him/her to see an issue from different perspectives and allow him/her to select the right people for a project. But a leader does not necessarily needs to know everything, this is where the a multi-disciplinary team, where each member is an expert in a particular area, comes in handy. I beleive it is more important for a leader to be able to elicit the ‘right’ knowledge from his team of experts and motivate them to contribute effectively.

    08 Jun 2009, 16:15

  4. At risk of going slightly off topic from your original post, I wanted to clarify that I didn’t mean that a leader needs to know everything. I meant that there is sufficient general knowledge available to combat the growing complexity of managements job. Generalising, I mean that in the past, a leader may have just adopted Taylorism in employee motivation. It is generally recognised now that industry has changed and people don’t just want money as a reward. I don’t mean that a leader must have in depth knowledge to be effective, you are absolutely right that we have multi disciplinary teams for that. To use your example, whilst we may not have been able to extensively explore all the topics touched upon in a module, we still come away form it with a heightened sense of education on the topic as individuals. I take your point however that a leader may not always have sufficient information to deal with everything on their own.

    09 Jun 2009, 17:55

  5. Aishani

    It was nice reading the original post and the debate and discussions that followed… A well thought out topic…

    11 Aug 2009, 06:39

  6. payroll processing company India

    A very interesting topic that has been raised here. Be it any age we do need good leaders to guide us.

    04 Sep 2009, 08:45

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