Collaboration or Individual Leadership? Which Is It?

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by: John Caddell

Collaboration is in. The WSJ Business Insight article "Leading From Below" states, "at most companies, senior managers are increasingly hamstrung by the demand from investors and analysts for immediate results"–requiring middle managers to provide leadership at the company level. Other scholars say dissent in the workplace is to be encouraged. The democratic organization is gaining traction.

You would think that we’ve passed into a new phase of corporate management–leadership by collective. Yet a couple of authors have recently reasserted the importance of individual vision and leadership in business.
In "The Opposable Mind," Roger Martin celebrates the unique capability of individual innovators. Martin writes, "the most common failing of conventional thinking is the tendency to lose sight of the whole decision. It may be easier to dole out pieces of a decision to various corporate functions, but that ensures that no one will take a holistic view of a particular problem." (p.46)

And, in the January Harvard Business Review, Cynthia Montgomery of Harvard Business School states that we should be "Putting Leadership Back Into Strategy" (link – $$). Writes Montgomery:

The need to create and recreate reasons for a company’s continued existence sets the strategist apart from every other individual in the company.

Throughout her paper, Montgomery underlines the need not to delegate strategy, but to make it the most important task of the CEO. Strategy-making by committee? Not in Montgomery’s view.

So which approach is correct? I’m stumped. Perhaps the artful company balances a strong, visionary leader with the tools and techniques of collaboration, somehow combining the coherence of a single vision and the power of the masses and the "wisdom of crowds."

No wonder there are so few brilliant companies out there.

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