Corporate leadership has been pretty totalitarian throughout history, a tendency that remains the status quo in many places. But eventually some astute corporatization experts FINALLY began to understand that strict hierarchical control by a single boss (or small group of bosses) causes a dearth of creativity in the business environment by creating a glass ceiling. Creative and highly-skilled junior-employees trapped below find themselves unable to challenge the tyranny of misguided, uninformed, or poorly thought-out decisions from above. Unable to advance, unable to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities, and chained down by managerial limitations from on high, the best and brightest employees will eventually bail out to work elsewhere… assuming they don’t first burn out from sheer frustration.
In response to this syndrome, business management philosophy eventually started focusing on ways to limit managerial power and provide better oversight to prevent its misuse. Thus began the never-ending struggle to differentiate between “leadership” versus “management.”
One analogy might be to envision the ranks of employees in animal terms: the managerial model envisions the employees as a flock of sheep and pictures the boss in the role of shepherd, driving the sheep in whatever direction is best for the herd. But the leadership model takes a different tack, imagining the employees more as a pack of semi-independent agents (like wolves) guided from within by the most skilled, admirable, and able wolf in the pack— the alpha wolf, i.e. the pack leader.
No one wants to imagine themselves as a sheep, since being a wolf sounds much sexier, but in some cases the analogy fits perfectly and the managerial model works well. But the second model, above— the leadership model— can only work well if the appointed wolf-in-charge— the “leader”— is REALLY the most qualified to assume that role. If not, the model can’t indefinitely sustain itself. Everyone wants to believe they themselves are leadership material… but in truth, not many people really are. Truly gifted leaders are rare. And too many self-envisioned so-called “leaders” eventually wind up catastophically alienating the rest of their pack… or worse, leading them over the edge of a cliff to their doom.
When planning a business, one cannot always assume that qualified leaders will manifest from within the ranks. That’s why managerial systems exist: to alleviate the need for natural leaders (those capable of making the correct leadership decisions under their own cognizance) by replacing them with trained managers who seldom have to make personal leadership decisions at all, but who can instead simply act as the “shepherd,” overseeing and enforcing previously-determined rules of company policy.
A recent innovation in business theory is centered around the concept of “adhocracy” (popularized by Future Shock author Alvin Toffler). Adhocracies— the opposite of bureaucracies— are temporary work groups without hierarchical roles, free from a traditional linear command structure. Employees are grouped into concentrated units and deployed in small, specialized teams to complete projects. A similar approach has lately been adopted by the U.S. military in a move from traditional strictly-regimented command structures toward the greater fluidity of specialized mission groups and fire teams.
The problem with adhocracy is that it requires everyone to take responsibility for his or her own role in the proceedings. Which sometimes works… unless, or course, the employee is a lousy self-motivator, is lazy, and lacks even the self-discipline to be his or her OWN boss. It’s dangerous to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing amidst a hunting pack. When that happens, expect that sheep to start bleating for the protection of a shepherd.
Some people will always need a boss to give them direction. It’s important to discover where you fit in and find a work environment where you can thrive, lest you get shorn too severely (sheep) or skinned for your pelt (wolf). Some bosses are leaders, some are shepherds… and some are just jerks who like to boss other people around. Learn to recognize the difference.