"The leader" is the new Buddha of the corporations and leadership is the new religion for everyone inside the big companies.
A strange religion of being both God and follower, because most of us are followers of certain leaders, but also aspire to become one of the great leaders that will, eventually, change, through a creative revolution, the course of the company, and move it from a mediocre / mainstream path to a glorious one.
In a big corporation, organically sunk in strict norms and procedure and deeply focussed on efficiency and making more money with lower effort and fewer resources, the idealistic frame of the leader may also come from our desire of escaping in a fantasy world, freer and, in some cases, mystical, or at least not so preoccupie an resources" with the only purpose of making the shareholders happier.
The leader can be seen as a modern hero and everyone is, naturally, more willing to follow someone who don't consider subordinates "robots"/ some means to achieve something, but, on the contrary, as the indispensable ones that will fulfil, together with the leader, the illuminating vision of the company. The company itself transforms and become an army with a predestined mission on the planet. That's why the leader need to inspire us, to picture a different world in front of our gazed eyes and should vigorously lead us to fulfil the destiny.
The leadership books changed also, and the arid language of the business filled with emotions and plenty of stories. The leader is almost a superhuman, and reasonable people start to worry if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates gets a flue or indigestion, because they are one of the most valuable assets of their empires and the ships may always sink if their inspirational leader (not manager) might get hurt.
Jesus, Napoleon, Alexander the Great and Churchill were taken out from graves and populated the management books and were given as examples, while emphasising that no manager worth a penny if he is not a leader in the same time.
Then, other hysteria filled the space with the question if leader should be born, or someone can learn how to become one. Good managers started to question what's wrong with them as they can not inspire crowds and got into intensive training of creating a vision in their teams.
While manager appear more often on everyone's business cards, including for junior ones (Account manager, Junior Relationship Manager, etc), the concept of manager significantly has been diluted, and and the importance of being manager became, basically, not so important.
Recently, the authors who managed, in my opinion, to put back the things on a correct track are Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, from The Gallup Organization, through their inspirational book "First break all the Rules".
Based on a large research among managers from various and very different companies, the authors put a new aura on managers (insisting quite on front line managers) and clearly emphasizing the vital role of manager (alongside the leader or even without being necessary to have a leader in the company).
The manager is vital, because he or she is the one "who excelled at turning each employee's talent into performance", the "key to attracting and retaining talented employees". The manager is the one who "select an employee for talent rather than for skills or experience; manager set expectations for him or her; defines the right outcomes rather than the right steps; manager motivates people; builds on each person's unique strengths rather than trying to fix his weaknesses"; and, finally the manager "develops people - find the right fit for each person, not the next rung on the ladder".
The book not only defines the profile of a great manager, but changes the focus from the leader to someone who became rather insignificant - the manager.
After reading this book, one can reasonably believe that a leader is welcomed in a company mostly from belongingness and PR point of view.
No more childish staff like "manager manages complexity, while leader manage change".
Of course an almost broke company, needs also a charismatic and trustful leader in order still to keep its valuable people inside, enough committed to get back to positive EBITDA and life.
Of course, a declining big company might need a bright leader that quickly manage to influence everyone and drive the organisation in totally new direction through a visionary leadership for finding, like Columbus, a new juicy territory.
But otherwise, the great leader is, marginally, valuable (but neither necessary, nor sufficient) to contribute to the feeling of belongingness to a clearly defined family. In the same time, a leader is the best channel for the outside world to know your company, the person who will be interviewed by the journalists and, very often, will become the symbol of the brand of the company besides the logo.
While the real and valuable work is done by the managers.
To put it more straight, in my own company, I prefer to have some great managers and I will not be upset if no great leader will come at the office in the morning, instead of having a great leader but some lousy managers.show more
by Codrut Nicolau