Leadership Is Not One Dimensional
Browse the business section of any book store, read the business press, listen to academic theorists, gurus, or management consultants, and you’ll find plenty of prescriptions for what it takes to be a good CEO.
While many of these management prescriptions are helpful, they can be dangerous if applied the wrong way. In order to make a name for themselves, management gurus tend to promote a single piece of the CEO puzzle without regard for the limits of that one piece and its interrelationship with the others.
A great CEO is balanced and is able to think at a variety of levels, draw upon different tools, apply different solutions, and use different styles, all depending on the needs of a particular situation. But the CEO who becomes overly enamored with the latest management craze often begins to neglect other equally important parts of what it takes to be a successful leader.
As you learn about and adopt particular management concepts, it’s useful to think of them like you would if you were working to improve one aspect of your life, like your health, your finances, your career, or your relationships. While each is important, if pursued exclusively and at the cost of the others then you’re not going to end up better off.
One-Dimensional Prescriptions Are Not Enough
The offering of management advice is a high-growth and profitable industry. Yet despite the increasing amount of business thinking, it would be hard to say that the profession as a whole is doing materially better than it was 20 or 30 years ago – as measured by the evaluations of the CEOs themselves, or those of Boards, shareholders, members of the executive team, employees, or customers.
Part of that stagnation can be blamed on external business challenges, including factors like global competition, the increasing short-term focus of investors, and the rapid rate of change and competitive upheaval brought about by technology.
However, another cause is the commitment to one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all cure-alls for everything from leadership, to management, to culture. The CEO’s job can and must be defined in simple terms, but reducing too much of it to only one part of what needs to be a balanced set of roles is the wrong direction in which to look for that simplicity.
The presentation of one narrow set of principles as the Holy Grail of leadership can be educational if absorbed selectively and proportionately. Yet if you rely on it too heavily, you will fail to embrace the full range of skills and disciplines, which are required of a successful CEO.
Most of the popular business books lead the reader to believe that the theories or concepts in the book can be applied to his or her situation without considering context.
The theory behind most business books or articles is applicable to a very small set of businesses – often, big name companies. But how many of us are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? Fortune 500 companies are mature, well-known, successful companies. Most business leaders run businesses that are very different. The ideas that work for GE may be brilliant, but they aren’t universal and they aren’t the right blueprint to follow for a company that isn’t like GE. The assumption that a start-up, small, mid-sized, or even larger company can apply the methods of Fortune 500 companies is not practical.
Great leaders must be able to take academic theory and traditional business logic and adapt them to the context of the situation they face.
Is the advice you get appropriate for the context of your situation?