Article: Creating leaders vs. followers: The fallacy of leadership


Creating leaders vs. followers: The fallacy of leadership

The evolution from traditional charismatic leadership to contemporary leadership emphasises nurturing leaders over followers within organisational frameworks.
Creating leaders vs. followers: The fallacy of leadership

Human enlightenment has unfolded across millennia, commencing with the cognitive revolution some seventy thousand years ago and advancing to the agricultural revolution around twelve thousand years ago. Throughout this progression, humans have been organised into small groups led by individuals whose leadership remains somewhat enigmatic today. Reflecting on the past five thousand years, it becomes apparent that many of these leaders were followed not necessarily due to the rationality of their ideas, but rather owing to their charisma and authority. Their followers embraced an imagined order postulated by these leaders, which served as an unquestionable rationale for their actions and beliefs. This style of leadership, and the followers it cultivated, shaped civil order with profound impacts on our cultural and religious landscapes, challenging the relevance of these dynamics in today's modern world.

But does a large group need some different mechanisms to lead other than creating followers? 

In recent centuries, the emergence of a new imagined order, the 'organisation', has become central to human occupational associations, diverging significantly from the traditional imagined orders rooted in religious and civil beliefs. This organisational concept is characterised by multi-individualism and collaboration, sometimes embracing contradictory ideas. Today, organisational motives predominantly revolve around creating economic or social value, driven by rational choices made by members to fulfil objectives. With enhanced information sharing, groups are interconnected, and ideas are freely exchanged, rendering organisational leaders fallible.

In this contemporary landscape, the question arises: should organisational structures aim to create leaders or followers?

Creating followers is often seen as a primitive approach. Managers, guided by their innate social instincts, foster team cohesion by forming social connections, engaging with team interests, and establishing reputations that cultivate 'symbiotic relationships'. They foster a friendly environment, smoothing over issues that may hinder organisational growth. As social bonds influence professional work, managers cultivate followers who are professionally attached and personally connected, fostering a serene work environment where mutual objectives supersede conflicts. Scholars like Elton Mayo highlight the impact of human social nature on group efficiency and productivity.

Amidst this quest to foster a social environment, are we nurturing followers or leaders? Does this deviate from organisational objectives?

Historian Andrew Roberts reminds us that while leadership is often associated with inherent goodness, it is morally neutral—a force capable of guiding humanity towards either enlightenment or ruin. Leadership is about harnessing the power and aspirations of group members towards a shared objective, creating champions who believe in themselves and empower others. Responsible leadership steers towards morally acceptable paths, fostering trust among team members to realise organisational objectives, notably serving customers. Companies resiliently resist pressures and adapt to change when leadership cultivates leaders at all levels.

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However, leaders can also steer organisations towards 'bad' or 'unacceptable' ideologies, prioritising imagined values over the main organisational objectives. In such groups, comfort stifles innovation, and decision-making lacks discussion and participation, leading to slow progress and ideological stagnation. While companies anticipate agency costs in business, the costs of incorrect leadership and follower creation remain incalculable yet detrimental to growth. A fallible leadership focused on creating leaders rather than followers acknowledges the importance of learning and scientific innovation, as articulated by Bill Gates: "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others. "

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Topics: Leadership, Leadership Solutions

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