Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Collaboration or individual leadership? Which is it?

Collaboration is in. The WSJ Business Insight article "Leading From Below" states, "at most companies, senior managers are increasingly hamstrung by the demand from investors and analysts for immediate results"--requiring middle managers to provide leadership at the company level. Other scholars say dissent in the workplace is to be encouraged. The democratic organization is gaining traction.

You would think that we've passed into a new phase of corporate management--leadership by collective. Yet a couple of authors have recently reasserted the importance of individual vision and leadership in business.
In "The Opposable Mind," Roger Martin celebrates the unique capability of individual innovators. Martin writes, "the most common failing of conventional thinking is the tendency to lose sight of the whole decision. It may be easier to dole out pieces of a decision to various corporate functions, but that ensures that no one will take a holistic view of a particular problem." (p.46)

And, in the January Harvard Business Review, Cynthia Montgomery of Harvard Business School states that we should be "Putting Leadership Back Into Strategy" (link - $$). Writes Montgomery:

The need to create and recreate reasons for a company's continued existence sets the strategist apart from every other individual in the company.

Throughout her paper, Montgomery underlines the need not to delegate strategy, but to make it the most important task of the CEO. Strategy-making by committee? Not in Montgomery's view.

So which approach is correct? I'm stumped. Perhaps the artful company balances a strong, visionary leader with the tools and techniques of collaboration, somehow combining the coherence of a single vision and the power of the masses and the "wisdom of crowds."

No wonder there are so few brilliant companies out there.

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2 comments:

Wally Bock said...

I like your hypotheses at the end that "Perhaps the artful company balances a strong, visionary leader with the tools and techniques of collaboration, somehow combining the coherence of a single vision and the power of the masses and the 'wisdom of crowds.'"

In an organization, you need some one who sets the vision and direction. That's rarely done well by a group, but that doesn't mean you don't want every brain in the game. I think there's a balance, innovative ideas are usually the product of individuals, but innovation (turning the idea into something that changes things) is often the work of groups. Creating a vision is often an individual activity, but doing the creating without hearing from the people in the company who touch the customers is just asking for trouble.

Michelle Malay Carter said...

I think you can have it all! I agree with Wally's points.

It all comes back to clarity of accountabilities and authorities.

If organizations want accountability to lie with one person, they must give that one person the authority to decide. Does this mean they decide in a vacuum? I hope not.

A leader is a leader because s/he is ultimately accountable for the decision. A wise leader listens but then must ultimately decide.

Team accountability is a myth because the buck stops no where.

However, collaboration is not the same as democracy (majority vote decides).

I'm all for collaboration, but a democratic workplace is a well intentioned highway to conflict.

I blogged about this at: http://www.missionmindedmanagement.com/when-everyone-is-accountable-no-one-is-accountable-the-team-accountability-fantasy

Regards,

Michelle