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Egocentric Leadership

I just finished reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and I didn’t like it. Yes, the message about team formation was quite good, and the model was interesting. But I hated the story. It describes a management team of immature managers, who all seem to be behaving like children. But behold… there is a new and wise CEO who is able to herd them all in the right direction, with a gentle but firm hand. Install a smart and experienced CEO, et voilá… Problem solved.

That’s management 2.0 all over.

It’s the same with Good to Great, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, The One Minute Manager, and many others. They all assume that the organization is a ship full of lemmings, who are all in desperate need to be led. And that leadership is to be executed by the top lemming, of course.

It’s no wonder such books sell like cupcakes among everyone who enjoys feeling superior to other workers. It satisfies their needs for status and power. Another name would be egocentric leadership.

Now, don’t get me wrong! There are plenty of good ideas and good intentions among the authors of these books. That’s why I call it management 2.0: Nice ideas, bad implementation.

I get the same allergic reaction when I see the suggestion that managers should “coach their subordinates”. (Some former sports athletes make a lot of money teaching “coaching leadership” to stadiums fool of drooling CEO’s. I’m sure they have some vendors selling branded sticks and carrots.)

Repeat after me: managers cannot coach employees!

Because most “superiors” have no idea how to do the jobs of their “subordinates”. Peter Drucker already wrote this ages ago:

Knowledge workers are not subordinates; they are “associates.” For, once beyond the apprentice stage, knowledge workers must know more about their job than their boss does—or else they are no good at all. In fact, that they know more about their job than anybody else in the organization is part of the definition of knowledge workers.

- Peter F. Drucker, Management

Management 3.0 is the understanding that an organization is a social complex system of knowledge workers. Taking care of the system is just another specialization, just like development, testing, and marketing. Someone has to do it. But nobody is anyone else’s superior. We’re all in it together.

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