Evolving Perspectives on Leadership

Leadership for start ups versus established organizations often looks a bit distinctive from IMGP6865each other, and for good reason.  The leader of a start-up has to have single minded focus while (almost) single-handedly dealing with a hailstorm of obstacles and opportunities — each capable of derailing or delaying the realization of the company’s goals.  The leader of an established firm ought to devote more time to building organizational cohesion and bench strength in specific functional areas as he/she works as enabler for the organization to successfully execute strategy.

The passion and urgency to execute on goals should be the same in each case; however, I believe that the manner (strategies/tactics) in which each stereotyped leader pursues the achievement of goals may differ.

A recent article at the Harvard Business School blog site titled “Are Today’s Business Heroes Challenging Our Ideas About Leadership?” (click HERE) probes this issue by considering how some tech industry “superstar CEOs” may not fit the traditional mold of leadership defined by experts like Tom Peters, Jim Collins, and Robert Greenleaf (et.al.)


The author, James Heskett, acknowledges the strong vision of “today’s business heroes” but also concedes that they “have challenged people to do their best work, but in somewhat demeaning ways.”  In contrast, the idyllic business leader typifies an “others first” mentality in developing and encouraging subordinates while holding them accountable for results.   Perhaps most shockingly, Heskett acknowledges that some of these business heroes have gone as far as to throw “public tantrums” which is hardly the kind of behavior we’d expect from corporate CEOs.

I tend to agree with Heskett’s observation that “When asked the standard “cash out” question by venture capitalists, “Would you rather be rich or be king?,” they must have answered, “Both,” and made it work.”  So as a consequence of unique genius (technical insights not easily duplicated by others) or because of the rapid expansion of an industry bubble to reduce the need to cash out the entrepreneur and replace him/her with a more traditional business leader, we have seen some interesting twists in modern company leaders.

IMGP6920I admire the tenacity and assertiveness of entrepreneurs – they face a wall of challenges and have the audacity to simply walk around while the rest of us try to figure out how to climb over it.  Nonetheless, having worked for a such a manager during the transition years from “start up” to “mature business” it can be frustrating to watch single-minded vision and dedication become “shortsightedness” towards client needs, and callousness towards staff issues (expecting consistent 10-12 hour days at minimal pay and zero vacation time, etc.).   I’ve even witnessed tantrums and storming out of the office, etc. (thankfully its all in the distant past now)

The article concludes with very interesting questions that I’ll repeat here:

Are founders and entrepreneurs a separate breed? Should they be excused from a discussion of great leadership? Or are the most successful among their ranks a harbinger of the future of management in a fast-moving, high tech competitive world that increasingly rewards innovation, transient competitive advantage, and the kinds of leadership that produce them? Are today’s business heroes challenging our ideas about leadership? What do you think?

I think we need to recognize the best attributes within individuals and encourage them to become either entrepreneurs or servant-leaders.  These are different roles to play and each can be executed with the highest personal character and great personal reward.

Public Speaker RockwellWithin a Scouting unit, we just need to refrain from expecting all boys to fit one mold — some may be more apt to act out or pursue a lifestyle of “fire, ready, aim”.  Perhaps these boys can be challenged to grow through different sorts of opportunities and challenges than we might normally ascribe (more high adventure, or experimental cooking, etc.)  At the very least we must be ready to accept their seemingly unconventional approach to leading a PLC meeting, organizing a campfire program or leading a fundraising activity.  They may be the next start up hero of wall street even though they didn’t follow the precise path we might have expected of a more studied servant leader.

Wawayanda 2011 tents


About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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3 Responses to Evolving Perspectives on Leadership

  1. Joe Bollig says:

    Good post.

    • Troop113 says:

      Thanks, Joe. I think that the HBS author deserves the most credit for making the connections, but it got me thinking about how NYLT, WoodBadge, etc. tends to promote “one way” thinking about leadership in scouting. It’s not bad, but there may be room for budding entrepreneurs who march to a very different beat, too.

  2. joe bollig says:

    Maybe the training we received in Scouting (past tense for me) is as much about culture as knowledge, just like the military. In a sense, “group think” is important in any organization that prizes unity. Yet groupthink and too much conformity can be deadening and destructive, and brutal. It is another case of living in tension between freedom and conformity. My conclusion has been that most Scouters are raging conformists. Reminds me of a reference to Dietrich Bonhoffer, he noticed that there is no principle or dogma that American Christians will not surrender for the sake of getting along. Scouting in USA places a high value on getting along, which is conformity, and “niceness,” which is a good that can be converted by moral cowardice into something bad. Anything normally good can be made to serve evil by a failure of virtue, of sin.

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