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A Question of Leadership

As organizations prepare for the accelerating influence and role of technology (specifically, AI, ML, Big Data, Autonomous Operations, 3D & 4D Printing, Ubiquitous Communications, Seamless Integration / Interoperability, Immersive Computing, and exponential change and complexity), industrial design, architecture, and now leadership are all being revisited by education centers and institutions.

Increasingly, I'm seeing questions about the types / styles / behaviors we need to develop and/or recruit in future leaders to address the above mentioned challenges. Studies are underway to envision the future of leadership.


I think the questions being raised are part of an ongoing "trap" of sorts. While these efforts are genuine, however I believe we're addressing the wrong problem. I think the concept of leadership has not changed and probably will not change in the future. So, that would be my “going in” premise. The challenge that we are facing and the reason (I believe) these questions are even being asked is because I do not believe most people understand WHAT leadership means. Here are a few questions that we may want to explore as part of a white paper response:

  • What is the purpose of leadership ?

  • What are the behaviors of a leader ?

  • How should a leader think ?

  • How should a leader communicate ?

  • What should a leader do ?

  • What should be measured ?

  • How do we identify leadership “qualities” in a person ?

  • Is leadership confined to humans (or is this something machines can do) ?

  • Is leadership an innately human quality (i.e. do animals display aspects of leadership?)

The answers should be abstract from any organization, institution, and government. Further, when answering these questions we need to ensure our responses take into account different scenarios and venues (not limited to organizations, institutions, and government).  

I revisited some of Ackoff's (see Systemic View of Transformational Leadership, Leadership Cannot Be Taught) earlier work to see if there is something I've missed with leadership concepts and approaches. Ackoff's thinking seems to support the ongoing mystical view about leadership. Only the very few (born into the elite class) will ever rise to become leaders (let alone great leaders).

I believe his conclusions that leadership cannot be taught is fundamentally flawed. This is not an abstract art form nor is it a genetic disposition. Leadership “styles” are mostly what I see being discussed and how to handle specific types of situations.  Most misconceptions about leadership involve decision making and dealing with uncertainty.  If we separate leadership form good decision making (and the problem domain), then what exactly do we mean by leadership ? (see list of questions above).

Leadership concepts were born out of battle and our corporate hierarchies and decision making were patterned after military command and control. I don’t believe there is a particular style of leadership. You either demonstrate leadership behaviors or you do not. Stylistic interpretations reinforce the false pretense that leadership is some higher form of art and thus cannot be taught.  These “styles” and situational nuances tend to manifest themselves into “versions” of leadership. 

I believe leadership is a set of transcendent behaviors and successful leaders incorporate multiple sets of thinking capabilities to augment these behaviors. I'll expand on thinking patterns in future posts. 


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