Good Leadership Matters
Today I was reminder why I chose my line of work, frustrating as it can often be.
I was recently laid off; it’s the reason I no longer author my two previous blogs (they belonged to my former employer). As sometimes happens during a job search, I began to question my career choice. Why didn’t I become an engineer like I thought I would during my high school years? I could have designed the space elevator by now Why didn’t I become a chemist? I could have found a way to extract fuel from a vat of microorganisms. I would have enjoyed those tremendously and I would have a constant reminder that what I did really mattered to the world. By contrast, what I do now pales in importance.
Then I started thinking about what my work day would look like in any of these alternate career paths. All of them had one thing in common: Managers. I don’t care how good you are at your job; if you work with other people, you work for other people. It is these people that have the ability to nurture your natural brilliance (and aren’t we all brilliant, if only in our own minds?) or crush your creative prowess.
I imagined myself as an engineer, designing the perfect refrigerator (seriously, for some reason this was the example of brilliance I came up with while I sat around in traffic). It would be so well designed that it would run for 50 years without the need for maintenance. My wonder fridge would outlive its owners. Think of how well this would sell! Of course, I would have a manger and that person would have some say in the design approval. Immediately that person would ask that the design not be quite so robust… we don’t want to design ourselves out of a job, now would we? I honestly had this argument in my own mind (it’s only insanity if you verbalize the crazy arguments with yourself, right?).
It was at this point that I had my revelation. A good leader would at least question this assumption. We would only design ourselves into bankruptcy if we had poor leadership, one with a narrow, inflexible vision. So what if we sell everyone a refrigerator that never breaks? Why are we a refrigerator company? Once we are done with refrigerators, we could conquer the stove and microwave markets. We could then own the kitchen appliance markets. But what then? Again, a visionary leader could redefine the organization into a quality creation business. We could make eternal automobile, eternal house, eternal road. Whatever needs creating, we could be the best at that.
But anyone that as ever had a job knows, this is not the way things would work out in a real organization (if you currently work for the exception to this rule, I am willing to sweep floors for you). The clever engineer would either comply with the request from their manager, of begin looking for a new job. This is why good leadership matters. This is why I do what I do. Every organization shelters a multiplicity of interests and it is leadership’s prerogative to select among them. Good leadership does not often “just happen.” Sure it can occur apparently spontaneously in some cases, but for the most part leaders must understand not only what leadership is, but also how to go about doing that. This is what I and my fellow organizational scientists do.
Recent history has revealed an alarming number of leaders that have chosen poorly. These individuals destroyed, or at least did not effectively intervene while the organization degraded their employee’s quality of life and destroyed a staggering amount of capital for its shareholders. Perhaps the biggest obstacle I have seen in organizations is leadership that believes that whatever it is they happen to be doing is good leadership because they are not bankrupt yet. Could these organizations have avoided their fate if they took advice from organizational science? I want to say yes, but nothing is quite so simple, but I strongly believe we could have helped. That companies are still plagued by poor leadership means that there is still room in the world for me and my skill set. I, like good leadership, still matter.