The fallacy of the all knowing General-Leader

Photo by Wili_hybrid

I think it is already a commonplace knowledge that leadership is about managing change. It is about the future and people’s fear of the uncertainties the future holds. It is about painting a clear picture of what the future would look like and articulating what it would feel and why it is a worthwhile journey to take.

This process is difficult. Difficult for the followers as people, generally, prefer the devil they know on the devil they don’t. Change also means work. It sometimes means, like president Obama said a while back, that things will get worse before they get better. People don’t want things to get worse for an unknown future of better. It is to flimsy of a concept. These difficulties lead to a reluctance to change. Leads to push-backs. And sometimes leads to total opposition.

This week, as part of our adaptive leadership workshop one of our instructors pointed us to the fact that many of the names that pop to mind when we think about leadership like Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi and even Jesus (and my own Israeli Example, Yitzhak Rabin) are people who were killed when they tried to bring on change.

Probably these people are extreme examples and the next change initiative you will lead in your company will not result in your murder, but still it is a valuable example to the difficulties we face when we bring a message of change. We need to consider the feelings of the people standing in front of us when we try to lead a change initiative and understand their actions in light of these feelings.

That is why the ability to articulate a vision and communicate it clearly is so important. The less uncertainly people will feel about the future, the clearer it will seem to them, the less afraid they will be and the less they will be prone to actions of resistance.

But an important thing leaders tend to forget it that having a clear vision of the future and painting the picture of the future does not make it a reality. It does not make something unbreakable. The future, like the future, will always remain uncertain and unknown. The only thing we can be sure about is that it will come. Even the best leaders make mistakes when they try to predict it. So, the process of communicating should a two way street. Not only is the leader’s job to articulate it, it is his job to dive into the uncertainties of the people. To try and understand them. And if needed, accommodated them into his vision.

When you think, learn or read about leadership and especially when you discuss it, there is always a tendency to resort to military examples. So many leadership quotes are taken from generals. Many analogies have been made between leadership the work of a general. I think it is about time we abandon this leader as a commander type of thinking. In the battle field, the general is the final word. In real life, and especially in business, it is not a sustainable practice. There is too much wisdom to gain from people who “oppose” you. The days of leading a group of “yes men” or of a leader that knows more than the rest are over. Today, the chances you will know more or better than your employees are slim. You might blame the Gen Y; you might blame the internet; I think it is just commonsense and it should have always been like that.

The fallacy of the all knowing General-Leader could lead to disastrous results. We are probably living an example of that these days. Change is not only hard for the followers. It is also hard for the leader. It is time to incorporate transparency and vulnerability into our leadership instead of complete obedience and self-confidence.