If we are so dissatisfied with those up front, asks Simon Caulkin, is it time to re-examine the conventional model?
'Where have all the leaders gone?' It's the management lament of the age. If only, runs the refrain, we had someone with the guts to kick sense into those morons in accounts; if only the directors would hire a Titan to pierce the fog of complexity and lead us into battle against the competition ... In politics, the same nostalgia for a simpler past lurks beneath the newspapers' scorn for current holders of the highest office. 'The age of disposable leadership,' ran one recent headline. The Seven Dwarves, the Insignificant Seven, the Empty Suits are just some of the epithets with which presidents and heads of government are consigned to perdition. In this vein, 'Greed, timidity and lack of vision are rampant among the current crop of pseudoleaders,' writes US leadership guru Warren Bennis. 'All the leaders we once respected are dead ... Leaders today sometimes appear to be an endangered species, caught in the whirl of events and circumstances beyond rational control.' The yearning for heroic leadership which underlies this threnody has complex causes: partly an echo of childhood dependency on looked-up-to parents, partly a need to find meaning in a common cause embodied by a noble captain. In a corporate context it is a reflection of the desire for certainty in a commercial world which is immeasurably more complex than even 20 years ago. Notes Tom Peters: 'Management, as it has been systematized and professionalized, has developed many axioms over the past century. But in the past 20 years, the stable conditions (large-scale mass production) that led to the slow emergence of these universals have blown apart.' One comparison of a Hewlett-Packard plant manager's job in 1970 and 1985 found that as well as overseeing a more volatile product line with swifter-changing manufacturing technology to ever higher quality standards, the 1980s manager was spending fully half his/her time on setting direction, communicating the need for change and motivating employees - in other words, leading - not one of which was thought worthy of mention in 1970.