By Greg Satell in Innovation Excellence blog Article
The Leaderless Organization
Abraham Lincoln. Winston Churchill. Nelson Mandela. We honor our leaders and always have. In both public and business life they are treated with almost godlike reverence.
I guess that’s why we compensate our corporate chiefs hundreds of times more than we do the average worker and then give them tens of millions more in bonuses, even when they are fired for cause. Mediocrity in leadership seems to pay as well as excellence.
All of this begs the question: Do we really need leaders? Is the small chance of getting an excellent one worth the high cost of the mediocre breed? Top management thinkers have begun to ask that question and, surprisingly, there are some prime examples of high performing organizations who are able to succeed without any leaders at all.
What Happens Without Managers?
In the field of management, there’s no one more prominent than Gary Hamel, who The Wall Street Journal named “the world’s most influential business thinker” and who is the most reprinted author in the history of the Harvard Business Review. He’s pioneered popular concepts such as core competency, strategic intent and reinvention.
So it rose eyebrows when he recently published an article entitled First, Let’s Fire All the Managers and declared that, “Management is the least efficient activity in your organization.” He then went on to suggest that it gets even worse as organizations get larger, that there are actually diseconomies to scale when it comes to management.
As a counter example, he examines the company Morning Star, which is a $700 million enterprise that is in the capital intensive business of processing tomato products. Nobody has a boss, anybody can spend company money and employees negotiate salaries and responsibilities with each other.
Perhaps most importantly, Morning Star isn’t a collective, but a privately owned, rapidly growing, highly profitable business. Hamel says it succeeds because the ‘mission is the boss.’”