Leaders: heroes or social architects?

Just been reading about Warren Bennis, the US industrial psychologist and former presidential adviser.  He is the man who coined the phrase:

Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” 

I like that Bennis’s work  and research with major corporations and universities over the last 40 years has enabled his thinking to evolve.  In the mid-1980s he had a view of organisational leadership that suggested the ‘heroic individual’ took charge of an organisation and by sheer force of charisma or personality led people to achieving organisational goals and visions.  This had evolved by the late 1990s after extensive study of high performing, successful teams to the idea that the most successful leaders were in fact social architects and that there were four key attributes that great leaders need to master:

1. Providing direction & meaning, a sense of purpose

2. Generating & sustaining trust, creating authentic relationships

3. Displaying a bias towards action, risk-taking and curiosity

4. Generating hope, optimism and psychological resilience that expects success

Finally, he thought that true leaders have the humility to learn from the people they lead. 

My role models for leadership throughout my working life have demonstrated most of these attributes. Few that I admire and want to learn from exhibited the sheer force of personality hero-way of leadership. They got things done, but, in my experience, the collateral damage to too many people’s psyches was too high a price. Bring on the social architects I say! What do you think?

Source: Guide to the Management Gurus by Carol Kennedy. 4th Edition, 2002. Random House Business Books

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