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A Crisis Of Leadership

June 23, 2011

Many failed projects and initiatives are blamed on inadequate leadership. Indeed, in IACCM research, ‘the quality of leadership’ was identified as the most important element in the success of complex contracts.

This is generally seen as a call for more leaders. But is it realistic or desirable to focus on individual leadership skills, or should we in fact be looking for different forms of leadership?

Any system that depends on the availability, enthusiasm and focused attention of a specific individual faces the risk of their absence at critical moments. In many ways, a cult of ‘leaders’ provides a convenient excuse for failure and a lack of team accountability for success.

Leadership is different from sponsorship. Executive sponsors are often critical to success; but in the best projects, it is their visible support that matters, not their active involvement. Indeed, if we look at flawed contracts, it is often because of the involvement of executives that we find there are ill-considered or unrealistic commitments.

So perhaps we should stop calling for more leaders and think instead about alternative ways to deliver leadership – for example, through collaborative and committed teams.

  1. Above all, more leaders is unlikely to be a good solution. Increases in quantity almost always go hand-in-hand with decreases in quality, which would give us worse leaders. If anything, the call should be for better leaders, not more leaders.

    (In my experience, the difference between a decent and a poor leader is less about doing something good and more about simply not screwing up—and I would rate most leaders I have encountered as somewhere in the range “barely adequate” to “poor”; “decent” being a minority and “excellent’ exceedingly rare.)

  2. Tim, I couldnt agree more! Over the past few weeks I have noticed many examples of an absence of leadership. And like you, I dont see this as being the lack of a leader – in fact, it’s almost the reverse; the issue is one of a failure to take proactive action, to demonstrate leadership. And sometimes this is exhibited as ‘I am waiting for a leader to appear and tell me which way to jump’.

    Leadership is surely a personal attribute. And CM professionals surely need to be leaders in their organisations, i.e. showing the way the business should be going, given our role as rounded, grounded, business professionals.

    For example, I would like to see more people demonstrating leadership in taking responsibility for their own personal development and that of their colleagues. Learning in the future will be less about formal training courses, and more about seizing opportunities to spot something in the business that needs to be improved, and collaborating with a team of like minded individuals to find solutions that take our businesses forward. Nobody is going to demand that you as an individual do that, leadership is making that decision.

    So let’s have more leadership from everyone!

  3. Owen Davies permalink

    I think that leadership is still a key aspect in a lot of deals that follow a transformation agenda, a good contract framework can structure the governance for collaboration but leadership is essential where it needs to “transform” the way in which both parties (supplier and buyer) act towards service delivery and the processes used by both parties prior to transformation.

    • Owen, I don’t think there is any disagreement that ‘leadership’ is required. It is more a question of the form it should take. Traditionally we have looked for ‘a leader’. But today, we seem to need more of them and it appears their absence is frequently a cause of failure. So are we looking in the wrong place? Has our networked world changed the qualities of leadership itself? After all, any individual who steps forward today appears to be subject to such scrutiny that they are frequently discredited. So maybe our society is seeking a new form of leadership that depends far less on the abilities of a single individual ….

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