Indispensable or Disposable?

October 17, 2012 by Bill Bradley


Title: How, When and If Leadership Matters

Competency: leadership

Who benefits: students of leadership interested in the big picture

Consultant Usage: helpful to consultants who work at the organizational level

What’s it about? Does it really matter who your CEO is?  Probably not according to Gautam Mukunda in his post Leaders Don’t Matter (Most of the Time).  He begins with an analysis of the metaphor of a great orchestra.  Great orchestras like great companies need that great conductor at the top, right?  He cites the multi-Grammy winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, “regarded as one of the finest orchestras in the world” as example of musicians without a conductor.  Interesting point of view.

Another interesting observation he makes is looking at the CEO selection process.  He focuses on who finished second in the CEO contest.  How different would #2 be from #1?  He suggests not much difference.  He says that often the organizational direction is dictated by factors beyond the CEO’s control.

Years ago I worked for the Los Angeles Times newspaper.  During my tenure we went through several CEOs.  Each had grand plans.  Yet in the grand scheme of things, the newspaper industry was headed in a non-stoppable direction beyond the control of any CEO.

I also vaguely remember reading many, many years ago about an insurance office of some kind in San Jose, CA.  The top guy (back then it is safe to assume it was a guy) left.  No replacement was named for over a year.  What happened?  During the absence of leadership the productivity numbers all went up.

Professor Mukunda (Harvard) also has a new book that goes well beyond the post.  The book is Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter.  The book focuses on how certain individuals (Steve Jobs) or situations (Civil War, WWII) allow for the indispensable leader.

The book is original in thought in a field crowded with ideas.  I am an examples guy and the book is filled with example, stories and tales.

Here is a quote from a fellow Harvard professor that pretty well sums up the book: “Indispensable is indispensable—an eye-opening analysis of how we should evaluate leaders in our politics and our organizations, and a set of gripping narratives about some of the most fascinating people who have ever lived.”

Start with the post, then consider the book.

Catch you later

Bill Bradley (mostly) retired after 35 years in organizational consulting, training and management development. During those years he worked internally with seven organizations and trained and consulted externally with more than 90 large and small businesses, government agencies, hospitals and schools.

Posted in Leadership Development

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