Photo by Feng Jiang
I can’t help but wonder if, “if we need to discover that we don’t need leaders”, is just wishful thinking on Corrigan’s part.
Admittedly, many of those who call themselves leaders are just over-promoted managers at best, or administartors at worst, but we all know great leadership when we see it. And we need it to motivate, cajole and direct those who don’t see the bigger picture and their role in delivering it.
Whether we like it or not, hierarchy and its sibling command & control, are here to stay. That doesn’t mean that networked organisations and self-organisation are not valuable additions, but they are just that. Additions, not the norm.
I replied to this comment thusly:
It’s interesting…I can see that that comment at the end of the podcast might be a little confusing. It’s a bit out of context, and so I’ll explain myself a little more.
First off, Dave and I were talking about the role of language in defining who we are and that the language of “leadership” seems to create all kinds of expectations that are untenable.
Second, I’m really interested in freeing up the idea of leadership so that it can be practiced everywhere and not in some designated box on an org chart somewhere. The kind of leadership that you talk about Graham is not just needed in the top boxes on org charts…it is needed, and indeed is available all over the place. Assuming that we can’t practice that is what is stifling alot of leadership potential in the world. I think this is something of the point that Desmond Tutu was making.
I’ll quibble with you a little on the idea that command and control are here to stay. I think the evidence is showing that hierarchy may be here to stay as a way of irrigating and organization with resources, but command and control have long given way to networked action based on relationships and intimacy. It’s how anything actually gets done, especially in large organizations. Don’t believe me? It’s the principle behind “work to rule” slow downs. Command and control aren’t synonymous with hierarchy – one can organize a resource allocation hierarchically but use distributed leadership to get the work done.
I have been playing with the idea that healthy bureaucracy is like an irrigation system in a field: at its best it slows down the flow of resources so that they can be useful and productive. When bureaucracies move too slow the stuff in the fields rots. With not enough control in the system, the fields wash away. A perfectly useful buraeucracy should look something like this amazing photo above, allowing farmers at each level to do their work of growing, nurturing, harvesting and selling their crops. What if we took a lesson from this pattern?