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Has the time come to abandon the idea that we need leaders?

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8th Jul 2013
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Since leaders earn the lion’s share, and since they have disproportionate sway in an organisation’s direction, isn’t it time we admit they just don’t make very good decisions?

In The Leaderless Revolution, Carne Ross points to a new world order in which “ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century,” highlighting grass-roots movements in the Arab world and activists in the West as examples.

Power is, without a doubt, trickling from the establishment to the individual. It’s a giant hour glass, and there’s a huge amount of sand, but it’s happening. In the business world, the balance of power is also shifting. And it’s happening faster than in civil society

If we look at the way leadership styles in business have evolved, there’s a clear trend; the employee is gaining a greater amount of power and input in the decision-making process. Transformational leadership, for example, is focussed wholly on giving leaders the tools they need to empower employees.

Transformational leadership is just the beginning of the ‘neo-styles’ of leadership. Academics are now talking about the merits of non-leadership, where leaders delegate decision-making and the implementation of those decisions to employees. Leaders become nothing more than figureheads.

Why is this good thing?

We need better decision-makers. Corporations increasingly need to balance the views of multiple stakeholders, some of which will be opposed in their ideologies and agendas. The more subjective the decision-maker, the less they’ll be able to take these opposing viewpoints into account.

Individuals are poor decision-makers. They are heavily influenced by personality, experience and cognitive traits. The extent to which emotion drives their decision-making is alarming. It’s only in recent years that scientists have overturned the arrogant notion that we make rational decisions. Emotion is the driver – you don’t outsmart it.

These problems can be more acute in leaders because researchers have identified traits common to leaders, such as dominance and extraversion.

But if leaders don’t make decisions, who will?

Groups are better placed to make decisions. Groups help mitigate cognitive biases (although new ones can emerge). Groups benefit from the skill, experience and cognitive traits of their members. If efforts are made to ensure disagreements are handled well, the diversity of groups is a good thing. Among academics, there is no argument – groups make better decisions.

As we further understand group dynamics, we’ll be able to better mould groups into objective decision-making machines. In the future, these groups – engineered to ensure diversity of background, knowledge and experience – will make decisions based on the latest integrative negotiation research.

And we’ll realise we never really needed leaders in the first place.

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By Jon Ingham
09th Jul 2013 15:37

And some complete tosh too. There's plenty of evidence that groups make poorer decisions than individuals. It depends how it's done. And one of the factors is good leadership.

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