Different concepts of leadership

Christopher Columbus. Photo Credit: Public Domain

World has been always dominated by two different ideas about organization of groups of people: Either a strong leadership that drives the actions of different people or a leadership based on coordination where people provide opinions and the leader only extract the common wishes of people. In social governance the sides of these ideas are dictatorship and direct democracy. In the former one, only the opinion of a single person is taken into account. In the latter one, there is actually no leader that is substituted by a decision making methodology based on voting. North America is considered a place of democracy; however, a democratic organization in Columbus’ expedition never discovered it. Sailors, probably, would have voted to go back to Spain before reaching the coast of America.

Without considering moral affairs, both solutions could run a small society in a prosper way. Prosperity does not proceed from the decision making process but the decisions themselves. Methodology or leadership is not required in order to provide good decisions but in order to cope with increasing complexity. As societies grow both accepting the decisions of a leader and agreeing about many matters make themselves more difficult tasks. Men have developed mixed solutions where leadership is seen in different forms, and leadership and management methodologies must cohabit in an effective organization.

Governance evolves very slowly, however, business organizations evolves much faster. The number of formal management methodologies and theories about leadership is huge, although market finally selects some of them that are commonly accepted as good practices and they got to be extensively spread.

However, management consultancy is a business like another one. The success of its products depends not on their quality only but on the marketing activity too. Standards ‘de facto’ can exists due to a good marketing activity instead of the added value of the consultancy product, in a similar way as VHS video recorders overcame Betamax ones. Management consultancy can be many times driven by fashion instead of added value, and unfortunately what is fashionable is not usually driven by management professionals but communication experts.

In spite of these issues, the traditional two management visions are preserved although nowadays they have evolved in different management methodologies. A professional consultant usually knows several of these methodologies and he applies them depending on the preferences of the client organization. Clients demand consultancy products that many times are fashionable because they are not experts in methodologies and their general knowledge about it is based on the specialist press and management forums. Mass media drive fashions but we should not forget that they are private companies with their own interests and value chain.

The implementation of a certain management methodology must be considered for the long term, and it will not be changed in several years. That is the reason why managers should avoid fashions and center their decisions on the added value for their organizations. Most of them usually demand the implementation of ‘de facto’ standards to reduce the risk of their decisions.

An example of this discussion can be seen in software development. Traditional engineering projects are fully predefined and driven by an engineer that leads the project. This scheme fits well the construction of a building, a road or a bridge. Construction knowledge is in the hands of the engineer than makes decisions about the task to be made by the operators. When the complexity of the project increases the required knowledge implies the involvement of several engineers expert in different areas. The figure of project manager arises in order to lead the activity of engineering. In a large engineering project the knowledge can be very specialized making ineffective a scheme of decision making by voting, and a clear leader can help to make the process more effective. Direct democracy works well when the information about the problem is common and all people understand it equally, however, it does not fit well highly specialized groups because the success of the project may not be distributed equally among the knowledge of different experts. In this case, the project manager values how different tasks affect to the whole progress.

Software projects are different. In a software project, programmers have similar tasks related to programming, and the team can take advantage of sharing knowledge among them in order to improve their capabilities to do their own tasks. The scheme of full leadership is not efficient. Software engineering has developed different management methodologies, for instance, those ones known as agile. Agile methodologies preserve certain leadership for decision making; however, a lot of decisions are made by the team.

In Scrum, an agile framework that can be considered as a ‘de facto’ standard in software development management, the scrum masters are activators of the agile process. They are more facilitators and coaches than leaders in the traditional sense of this word. There is another role in this methodology related to management: the product owner. This role has some responsibilities related to important decisions about the progress of the project but is not a classic project manager too.

Different management methodologies exist because there are different kind of organizations with different aims and different characteristics. Successful organizations are those ones that choose a methodology that let them to cope with higher complexity, or in other words, those ones that reduces their working complexity in a more complex environment, making their processes more effective and more efficient.


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