History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. -Martin Luther King
For a long time I didn’t pay much attention to history. Guess I was too focused on the future! But after several decades of consulting on strategy execution and more importantly, observing those in positions of leadership, it has become very clear that there are many leadership lessons contained in history.
Since I am working with a company facing significant business and political challenges at the moment, the issue of leadership is fresh on my mind.
So here’s the question. Which is worse, a bad leader or no leader at all?
It’s obvious that a bad leader can destroy not only the future prospects of a company (or nation), but also the culture and morale of people. For bad leadership of a nation, we don’t have to go to history, we have a current example in Robert Mugabe, self-declared Leader-for-Life of the African nation of Zimbabwe. And of course, Adolf Hitler is a recent historical example. Lehman Brothers had the misfortune of having Richard Fuld as its Chief Executive and “Wall Street Maven” and he took them from proud global bank to bankruptcy in record time. Like it or not, at these levels of political and organisational power, bad decisions equal bad leadership, with negative consequences all around.
So, is bad leadership worse than no leadership at all?
There is a great fear within organisations and nations that not having a visible leader can quickly lead to anarchy and chaos. The family business that falls apart when the founder and patriarch dies due to the infighting of the siblings. The country that descends into civil war when a leader is disposed or assassinated. In many cases we follow the motto of “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” as the rationale for supporting and propping up a bad leader. General Noriega and Saddam Hussein are excellent examples of bad leaders receiving substantial support in cash and arms to keep them in place.
But I have another point of view about “lack of a leader”. In many situations I have observed, at least in business, when leadership is needed, those within who have commitment, vision and courage tend to step up. They see the need in the company (or the country) and can no longer sit by and watch the situation flounder or deteriorate. They may not be the perfect leader (and who is?) but they have the courage, commitment and a plan to positively move forward. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, organisations and nations require leadership and someone will step up.
The more important question is, will we support and work with those who step up to positions of leadership?
Tight Lines . . .
How do you see the role of leadership? What has happened when there was a lack of leadership in your organisation? Let’s keep talking about leadership and courage; we need both now more than ever!