Leadership, Part 12: Shall I Serve or Shall I Rule?

In the discussion of the 7Cs, five of the seven Cs of the progression dealt with either how a leader ascends to the position of leadership or how they intend to retain their leader role. Only two of them–Consensus Building and Cooperation–really deal with how the leader intends to behave in the role. You could also say that these are the only two whose execution depends entirely on honesty and transparency (two attributes every U.S. President in my adult lifetime have given lip service to providing).

Let’s go back to the first two Cs:

A potential leader or current leader can seize on a Crisis to come into leadership or consolidate leadership. The crisis need not be real, or be honestly evaluated, if the end game is to get followers in line. The leader does have to project a confidence that they can get the followers through. In a democratically-elected structure, it can also help that the leader is the leader and is not in danger of being replaced.

Is such a leader ruling or serving? Much depends on what happens when the crisis recedes. The leader who declares martial law, and never lifts martial law when the crisis is over, has either become enamored of the thought of ruling or intended to become a ruler all along.

This progression is evident in the histories of many countries, but does it play out in business organizations as well? Consider the corporate leader who is thrust into the sort of crisis that threatens the organization’s survival. The leader must make quick, and in many cases, unpopular decisions. And, should the organization survive, regain its footing and grow, the leader may conclude his/her leadership is what saved the organization, and since that type of rule got us through, it’s appropriate to continue with that form of leadership. Such a leader may feel a sense of entitlement to transition into a ruling mode, and may even justify it by saying things such as, “if I hadn’t led us through the crisis, you wouldn’t have a job!”

The Compelling Vision can be more insidious than a Crisis, in particular because the would-be leader can claim ownership of the Vision when they would be loath to own the crisis. Most people would love to be in on the ground floor with the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, and for them someone with a unique vision can be hypnotic. The danger of course is that many of these visionaries are driven by the singular vision of them being in absolute control of others.

In the business world, this Vision may lead to a breakthrough product. The ruling visionary, buoyed by this success, may be deluded by the notion they have some Midas touch, that every idea will be similarly golden, and they will not tolerate dissent or any opinion that their next Vision will be anything less than revolution 2.o.

For such leaders, political or corporate, leading by serving was either abandoned in the heat of the struggle or was never a consideration to begin with. Either of these can make a quick leap to ruling with an iron fist, exercising complete control over everything, even being so brash and self-absorbed as to fire subordinates in the middle of a global conference call (one can only hope the situation was quickly Patched up–sorry).

What was missed in the progressions described above? Leading by serving, which not so coincidentally is embodied by Consensus-Building and Cooperation. There was no stop on the path from Crisis and Vision straight to Coercion and Control. More often than not, the reason is the leader never intended anything less than Rule by Self.

Tomorrow: embodying leadership by service.



About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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