Is ‘leadership’ old skool?

Umair Haque’s blog post ‘The Builders’ Manifesto‘ is an outstanding read. He surmises that ‘leadership’ is to some degree a by-product of a dying industrial era. Leaders of today know how to govern and navigate what are essentially 20th century organizational structures and economics. As we transition from industrial to information age, Umair sees a future that needs a rethink from the ground-up and thus requires a different skillset than your typical leader. Ironically, one of the better leaders / US Presidents of our time Bill Clinton penned the moniker ‘Building a bridge to the 21st century’. Yet, even Clinton himself is a mere cog in the wheel of that old leadership paradigm and wasn’t so much building a bridge but rather attempting to lead people across a fictitious one. Much in the same way that Haque contrasts Mahatma Gandhi (the builder) vs Barack Obama (the leader).

Today’s builders are igniting the distant grandchild of yesterday’s industrial revolution: an institutional revolution for a post-industrial world. They are forging the new building blocks – from ethical investment, to deep journalism, to socially useful finance, to universally accessible communication – that a rusting economy, society, and polity so urgently demand.

The 21st century doesn’t need more leaders – nor more leadership. Only Builders can kickstart the chain reaction of a better, more authentic kind of prosperity.

I’m not suggesting leadership is easy, but this reminds me of something Thomas Edison said about opportunity; “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Which is the tougher job, editing a book or authoring a new one? Perhaps this explains why the list of wannabe leaders is awfully long and wide, but builders? Not so much.

7 Comments Is ‘leadership’ old skool?

  1. Kris

    Interesting read, but I don’t like these black and white views of the world; applying arbitrary labels of "leader" (bad) vs "builder" (good) is kind of naive.It’s like jumping up and down going "capitalism good", "socialism bad" (or vice versa) when in reality, every shade of gray in between is in use. "A vs B" lists are easy to write, but the world never fits neatly into buckets like that.

  2. James Cogan

    @Kris – You make fair points for sure. I liked Haque’s broad point tho. The notion that we need more builders made sense to me.

  3. Kris

    He has some interesting broad points, but that’s the problem: nothing is defined at all. The leader says: "Let’s go." The builder says: "Come." I say: "BS."Claiming to understand the state of the world and its future better than "99.9% of world leaders" indicates nothing about any world leaders at all. On the other hand, it says quite a bit about the observer’s ego.

  4. James Cogan

    @Kris – I didn’t read as much polarization in his piece as you have. I took it as more of a philosophical commentary. As though he was saying that we are living on ships that were built for navigating 20th century waters and challenges. At some point, we’re going to need to build some new ships that are more capable of navigating the very different waters and challenges of the 21st century. Who is going to ‘build’ those new ships? The 20th century leaders/captains, or 21st century ship builders? Haque seems to suggest that ship-building is best done by builders, not leaders. I think he goes a step further and kinda intimates that leaders who are a by-product of the 20th century ships will inevitably try fixes, repairs, renovations etc. of their ships because those are the ships they know, that is how the system has trained them. I’m inclined to agree.

  5. Kris

    Philosophy tends to be fairly polarizing :)Armchair philosopher A can easily claim that "everything is broken" and get loud approval, that call never grows old.But like those software developers who say "I don’t understand / like this code, let’s rewrite it," it’s a naive decision often with bad results. Modify what you have, it’ll save time and effort!

  6. James Cogan

    I just watched the doc film "Collapse" available thru Rogers On Demand. After watching that, I’m definitely inclined to believe that society’s software code is likely in need of a complete reboot and rewrite. I don’t think a tweak or modification is going to do the trick ;-)On a totally separate note, Happy New Year to you!

  7. Kris

    I know what you mean, I was really hoping there’d be some bank bankruptcies last year to teach some lessons and clear the air (my favourite quote on the subject is: "Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell")…but realistically, I knew it wouldn’t happen…Happy New Year to you too!

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