What Is Drowning in the Swamp of Tradition

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On the critical mass of new leaders that will change how business is organized from the inside.

Source: Delovoy Peterburg

I have talked to an employee of a newly bankrupt training company lately. ‘More and more interesting leaders are eager to speak in front of any audience, while there is less and less interest to them,’ he complained. ‘Almost every businessman over 40 who has built a business wants to share his or her know-how.’ But the audience seems to be fed up with recipes from ‘guru’, be it Jobs or some local founders of a drug store chain.

At the same time the words ‘enterprise’ and ‘leadership’ have long ago become ‘sacred cows’ of forward-minded business. Why is demand for lecturers, bearers of these qualities, subsiding?

They turned out to have been ‘searching under a street lamp’: the company had been focusing on enterprising young people, startuppers, - who might be really tired of online ‘winning formulae’. But what about B2B? Among the clients of Ward Howell Leadership Development Programs are major banks, state-owned and private companies, including those from Saint Petersburg. Some of them have a couple thousand employees, others – over one hundred thousand. And what do I hear from the vice-presidents and directors into whose leadership skills serious money is invested by their employers? Regardless of the size and pattern of ownership of the company, the problem is always the same: ‘autocratic leadership style’. It’s also typical that the very idea of CEOs’ development comes from the top. But everything ‘the new leaders’ are taught – independence of thinking, proactiveness, new methods of motivating the subordinates and making decisions – strikes the vertical. Experience shows that however advanced ‘the chief leader’ is, as a rule he or she can’t help sticking to the autocratic tradition. ‘What we seek is what we get’: in terms of the narrow range of leadership styles mastered, our leaders are ‘old crocks’.

Does it mean that all executive development programs are doomed to sink in the mire of tradition? Yes and no. Financing such programs chief executives cook their own goose – in a good way. One can’t expect that any of them will learn to practice situational leadership, that the system will succumb and everything will change over a year or two. But such CEOs and shareholders gradually make up a critical mass of leaders of a new generation wielding not one, but two or three leadership styles. Eventually, it will get to six. And it’s these people who have a chance of changing the situation from within. The CEOs’ personal allegiance to the idea is important here; as for the rest, with their leadership qualities, it will definitely work out all right.