Leaders and People who are Led

The World's Largest Sculpture Of Chairman Mao In Changsha, Hunan
Changsha’s Mao Zedong monument stands on the spot where Mao is said to have composed his most famous poem “Changsha”.

Is leadership always positive?

Nominating high level managers is one of the critical, yet ‘soft’ decisions owners and boards are bothered by. Would the person show true ‘leadership’?  Is being a natural leader a necessary condition for truly good managers? I have doubts that I like to share and discuss openly.

There is direct causality between a state of fear and the emergence of leaders. A state of fear is caused by a perceived risk when the individual does not know what to do, so he looks for the one who seems to know. A Leader is a person that impacts other people to trust and follow him to the degree that the followers don’t question the direction.  This relatively rare ability to lead has a lot to do with the leader radiated self-confidence in facing risks and also with the communication skills of being simple, full of charm, bold and direct, all of which constitute the somewhat mysterious influence called ‘charisma’.

Many leaders emerge during wars.  Other when people felt stuck in the economy or looked for their human rights. The prospect of an innovative breakthrough also provide the background for the appearance of a leader who knows what to do.  Such a leader inspires the followers and brings hope.

The statue in the picture is of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung), a great leader even if you dislike his methods and philosophy. Other recognized leaders were: Martin Luther-King, Churchill, Steven Jobs, Hitler, Stalin, Hugo Chavez and Robert Oppenheimer.  Some of them achieved extraordinary achievements, but many led their followers to disasters. The target for a leader cannot be something that is less than great.  To inspire their followers the leaders take risks others don’t.  Sometimes taking the risk is justified, many times it is not.

Is every excellent management necessarily a leader?

There are managers who in their persistent quest to achieve more of the goal look for variety of ways to cause the necessary changes and push their subordinates to do whatever has to be done. Some of them have to conduct long dialogues with their people, listening carefully to their views, professional opinions and evaluation of the risks ahead, in order to eventually decide upon the next steps.  Many times all that is required is to give the green light to certain ideas proposed by the subordinates.  Truly effective managers care to explain the reasoning of key decisions in order to convince their people and also to ensure understanding.  They often use deals, compromises and flattery to achieve the results they want.  This is not a typical behavior for a leader who needs to maintain the impression of knowing everything.  Keeping open mind of the followers threatens the ability to lead.

When you see a leader you also need to look hard at the followers and wonder to the extent of their attraction to the leader. It is not enough to admire the ideas and capabilities of a person in order to follow his lead to the letter.  You need to subordinate your own mind to the leader, admitting his overall superiority.  Most organizations are built according to formal hierarchy where the manager is responsible to decide what to do, but the subordinates are not blind followers, so they develop their own ideas and criticism. Sometimes they even attempt to block certain moves.  This potential instability causes many to look for a strong leader to restore discipline.   However, without the open mind of all employees and their criticism the organization might lose more.

The benefits of leaders are:

  1. The goal, set by the leader himself, is very clear, seems almost impossible, and all the efforts are well focused and synchronized to achieve very ambitious results in relatively short time.
  2. The followers feel inspired and feel satisfied that the leader draws the best of their capabilities.
  3. High level of discipline causes the organization to be, certainly to be perceived, as highly efficient and effective.

The negative branches of leaders:

  1. The followers are not always able to identify the right ideas from the wrong ones. It is always tricky to criticize a leader or convincing him to do something different.
  2. The willingness of leaders to take big risks, which sometimes cause huge catastrophes.
  3. When a leader is gone there is a huge risk of deteriorating.
  4. Leaders catch fire from other leaders, causing huge conflicts.

The huge advantage of leaders is pulling their people out of the mud, or leading to a very ambitious objective that is unbelievable to many.

Achieving less ambitious objectives is better given to wise managers who use various techniques to progress, but who are not considered natural leaders and thus do not have blind followers.  When we truly need a leader to achieve something big, and we are also aware of the risk, we better put in place of formal authority another person who is not a blind follower, but is clever enough to be able to restrain the leader without blocking him.  Clever financial guys might sometimes fill that need successfully.


Published by

Eli Schragenheim

My love for challenges makes my life interesting. I'm concerned when I see organizations ignore uncertainty and I cannot understand people blindly following their leader.

2 thoughts on “Leaders and People who are Led”

  1. Does adopting TOC (a major change with huge risks and high payoff) require a leader or a manager? Another way to ask the question – does TOC still rely on leaders or has it progressed to the point where it can be adopted by capable managers?


    1. From my experience Eli Goldratt was seen by natural leaders as a threat to their own leadership. Leaders want that their change movement would be always associated with them. In a funny way good open-minded TOC experts, who do not have that rare charisma, can be much more effective with leaders. Capable managers might be more cautious in their way, but they can be very effective. The real question is whether the capable managers have the passion to bring in a dramatic improvement.


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