A Blueprint For Strategic Leadership

Strategy+Business has an excellent article about building an organization in ways that allow executives to flourish.

The challenge of leadership is not what it used to be. For the past few decades – at least since the genre-defining book Leadership by historian James MacGregor Burns was published in 1978 – writers on business and society have understood that the quality of a leader's character makes all the difference. Burns, for example, wrote that civilization depended on its "transforming" leaders – those who didn't just solve the problems handed to them, but who helped to raise society as a whole to higher levels of motivation and morality. Other business writers picked up the theme: Corporations, as Warren Bennis put it, also needed leaders who could not just "do things right" but also "do the right thing."

But what sorts of leaders could be counted on to do the right thing? Creative, experimental risk takers, like Richard Branson? Charismatic, domineering battlers like Lee Iacocca? Ruthless pursuers of performance like Jack Welch? Dedicated "servant leaders" like Herman Miller's Max De Pree? Quiet stoics like Darwin Smith, the CEO of Kimberly-Clark whom Jim Collins lauded in Good to Great? Or simply people whose "leadership secrets" have been collected, like Attila the Hun? Each style has had its advocates and acolytes over the years. But for all the sophistication of the experts, for all the books published on the subject, there is still no definitive consensus on the most effective style of leadership.

One of my favorite books, "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done," preaches that the job of a leader is to get the right people in the right places. Organizational design is often overlooked, but I think it is an important factor in any successful business.

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  • Maybe it would be useful to figure out “what” has proven ineffective so we can eliminate what doesn’t work.

    Of course the hardest part will be wringing the “luck” out of the formula that determines what and who is ineffective.