With crowdsourced decision-making growing in popularity, well-known companies creating self-managed teams with no managers, and technology that makes communication simple, it’s time to ask, “does leadership still matter?”
In Good to Great, even Jim Collins questioned the importance of leaders.
So, early in the project, I kept insisting, “Ignore the executives.” But the research team kept pushing back, “No! There is something consistently unusual about them.”
Finally – as should always be the case – the data won.
The good-to-great executives were all cut from the same cloth. … All the good-to-great companies had level 5 leaders at the time of transition.
Towards the close of the book, Collins offers another story that speaks to me about the real reasons leadership matters. Collins recounts being asked why we should bother to strive for greatness.
The question brought me up short. This was not a lazy person asking; he’d started his own business as a young man, put himself through law school, and after graduate school became a driven entrepreneur. He has remarkable energy, an intense and infectious enthusiasm. Of all the students I’ve known over the years, he is one that I have no doubt would be enormously successful. Yet he questions the whole idea of trying to build something great and lasting.
I can offer two answers.
First, I believe that it is no harder to build something great than to build something good. It might be statistically more rare to reach greatness, but it does not require more suffering than perpetuating mediocrity. Indeed, if some of the comparison companies in our study are any indication, it involves less suffering, and perhaps even less work. The beauty and power of the research findings is that they can radically simplify our lives while increasing our effectiveness. There is great solace in the simple fact of clarity – about what is vital, and what is not.
But there is a second answer to the question of why greatness, one that is at the very heart of what motivated us to undertake this huge project in the first place: the search for meaning, or more precisely, the search for meaningful work.
I believe that leadership matters because others are waiting for it.
They want to contribute to something larger than themselves, and they want someone to help them find order in this chaotic world.
Seth Godin reminds us that it’s always been this way.
The Beatles did not invent teenagers. They merely decided to lead them. You don’t need permission from people to lead them. But in case you do, here it is. They’re waiting. We’re waiting for you to show us where to go next.
This is true no matter of what level of life we’re at. We’re all still looking for leaders to help us keep growing.
A recent Fast Company article presses Tony Fadell (the founder of Nest and now worth over $3 billion) to explain why he keeps working, and even more so, why he wanted a boss.
If you squeeze Fadell to explain why, honestly, he came to Google, he leans back in his chair, taking a moment to catch his breath and reflect. Finally he’ll admit that it was because he was searching for his next mentor. The generally boisterous CEO, who has a boyish smile but the physique of a hit man, starts to sound genuinely sad. “I’m at this point in my life where . . . how do I say this?” He pauses and looks up. “I’m at this point where I’ve had some influential people in my life, and many of them have died.” He’s referring to Steve Jobs, of course, but also Phil Goldman, his mentor at General Magic, the first startup Fadell worked for, and his grandfather, who first taught him not to be afraid of electricity. “They’re the ones who made a bet on me and helped me get to the point where I am today by training me, by sticking my nose in it when I was wrong, and by patting me on the back when I was right.”
And Larry Page, arguably, is one of the few innovators left who Fadell could possibly justify working under. “I can learn a ton from Larry. I’m like a kid in a candy store again,” he explains, regaining steam. “I might be the only person who is lucky enough to work with both Steve and Larry, and I cherish that.”
“If you’re wondering what pushed me over the edge [to join Google], that was it. I was selfish about it,” he continues. “I gotta keep growing. Because I’m old, but I’m not that old.” Fadell is 45. “I’ve still got a lot of years ahead of me, and I’m not just going to sit here.”
What do you think?
Does leadership still matter?
Which leader has impacted you the most?