Agile & Digital

Are leaders really necessary?

As part of our regular “Matrix Monday” literature reviews, I recently read “Is the leader really necessary? The longitudinal results of leader absence in team building” appropriately written by R Wayne BOSS.

The study looks at the long term impact on team effectiveness of the leaders presence or absence at the early team building phase.

The extract began: “This study illustrates the central role the leaders plays in team building interventions.”

As a CEO myself, it was both good and at the same time worrying to see the impact of CEO commitment on OD activities: good for the ego to feel like you have such an impact, but worrying that organizational change still requires hierarchy in this day and age! Surely people can make progress without the boss’ involvement. Then as I read on, I realized the teams studied were State employees: most of the CEOs had not turned up with their teams as they thought it was not important and the department was in disarray, which I hope explains it.

The team with a leader CEO present showed improvement during the conference studied. The ones without leaders showed no improvement or slight deterioration. The study was repeated after 1, 10 and 20 years and showed that the team with a leader present at the starting conference continued to improve and the others generally did not.

It seems that leaders were required in this environment to work through interpersonal issues and clarify communication and decision processes. It also seems that this was a pretty dysfunctional environment so I am not sure how applicable these findings would be to a commercial business situation. I can’t imaging dysfunctional teams surviving for 20 years in any business I have worked in!

Personally, I don’t think we can afford the kind of management employees who require hierarchy and the CEO to work out these issues, particularly in today’s matrixed and distributed environments where the boss cannot be present or even available 24/7. If we do not build the capability to resolve interpersonal issues, decision making and communication at middle management level at least (and ideally even lower) then we can expect high levels of escalation and delay.

If it happened in my team I would think I had hired the wrong people.


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