Saturday, March 17, 2018

Getting the Autocratic Leaders We Deserve

strategy+business, March 13, 2018

by Theodore Kinni

A couple hundred years ago, the French philosopher Joseph de Maistre wrote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” As with other great one-liners, de Maistre’s bon mot has been repeated many times since, and somewhere along the line it morphed into “We get the leaders we deserve.” How we feel about this bromide depends on the leader sitting in the seat when it is uttered.

Right now, I find it discomforting. A good part of that feeling stems from my reading of Open Source Leadership: Reinventing Management When There’s No More Business As Usual (McGraw-Hill Education, 2017), by Rajeev Peshawaria, an experienced leadership professional who has served as chief learning officer at Coca-Cola and Morgan Stanley. Peshawaria is now CEO of the Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre, a nonprofit consultancy based in Kuala Lumpur. “Perhaps the biggest inconvenient truth of the current times is this,” he writes. “We’ve been idealizing democratic and all-inclusive leadership far too much, when the need of the hour is — and always has been — autocratic, top-down leadership.”

Photograph by Hero Images / Alamy

Peshawaria doesn’t define autocrat, so I assume he means leaders who rule with unlimited authority or whose influence or power is undisputed. He supports his conclusion that we need more autocratic leaders with data — specifically the results of Iclif’s survey of 16,000 senior and midlevel executives in 28 countries. In it, he provided a list of famous (but not infamous) leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, Jack Ma, and Mahatma Gandhi, and a mixed bag of leadership traits. About half of the traits represented inclusive, democratic behaviors, such as “relied on consensus and support” and “listened to find middle ground.” The other half represented top-down, autocratic qualities, such as “dared to be different” and “remained firm in their course of action.” The executives were asked to identify the top three traits that the leaders had in common. The autocratic traits came out on top.

Then, Peshawaria asked the executives to rate the following statement: “In order to drive unprecedented success for the organization in today’s fast-paced environment, a significant amount of top-down leadership is required.” Three-quarters of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed. Read the rest here.

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