Popular Posts

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Modern Thoughts About Leadership? Most of Them Are Nearly 2,500 Years Old!

Many of the social media pundits on leadership seem to think that their ideas are brand new, radical, revolutionary and innovative.

As it happens, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384BC-322BC) suggested that there are three forms of rule: the rule of one, the rule of the few and the rule of the many.  A student of Plato, he opined that the 'rule of one' was necessary to prevent anarchy and mob rule.  Now that is radical.

In those years and subsequently during the rise of Rome, the 'rule of one' came into prominence with emperors like Augustus, Claudius and the unlamented Caligula ruling.  So what happened to the rule of the few and the rule of the many?

It seems that even if there were a valid example of the 'rule of the many', in very short order a leader emerges to impose the 'rule of one'.   Post 1917 Russia is a classic example where the revolution of the masses spawned Stalin's 'rule of one'.

I recall a workshop weekend with a previous company where we had some six breakout groups of about ten in each, and we were asked to work on solving an insoluble problem.  Each group was allocated a minder who sat there and took notes and then reported back to the meeting after an hour's deliberation.

It turned out that we weren't actually working on problem solving, but were there to give the minders (all psychologists) a view of how groups work and how they choose their leaders.

Astonishingly, all the minders reported the same results.  In every case each group elected a notional leader/chairman, usually a Director of the company who happened to be in their group, and then proceeded to ignore him.

The more forceful and articulate seemed in each case to emerge into a leadership role with the majority of the other members of the groups deferring to them.  Seniority had no effect.

So what does this mean in terms of a modern approach to leadership?  Many businesses, especially those which are essentially entrepreneurial, are work on the 'rule of one' basis and the 'rule of the many' applies only in unusual cases like the John Lewis Partnership.   Many SMEs are run on the 'rule of the few' basis and preferably 'the virtuous few'.

However, it must be said that in the business world, Aristotle was percipient to the extent that in well run companies, all his rules apply.  Starting with an entrepreneurial leader, as the business grows and expands, an effective management team has to be built into a 'virtuous few'.

So where does the 'rule of the many' come into the calculation?   Until a business understands that 'the many' have much more to offer than merely their labour, then it will effectively be run on a 'top down' basis with minimal upwards contribution.

Perhaps this implies that one of the most important facets of great leaders is that of humility; the acceptance that they don't know everything about everything, and that everyone in the business has a place in the scheme of things.

David Marquet, lately of the US Navy and author of the best-selling book, Turn the Ship Around, says that he changed the governance of his failing command from Leader/Follower to Leader/Leader. This gave responsibility at every level of leadership rather than solely top down with all its consequent blockages.


If you would like to hear David in person he is the keynote speaker at the next Vistage Open Day on May 17th at the Hilton Hotel, Manchester.  DM me to be registered as my guest, FOC for the first three applications from executives at CEO or MD level. It could change your whole approach to leadership.


Visit the Vistage UK website
Follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook
Email: ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

No comments: