Tomorrow’s Successful Imaging Leaders

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In despair at the way its programs were organized, the business school at one university recruited as the director of programs a successful businessman, who had made a modest fortune in his own business and wanted to move on to a new career. ‘I will soon put some order in this place,’ he thought and said. He wrote memoranda to the academics laying down new procedures. No one read the memoranda. He called a meeting. No one came. In frustration, he asked for an explanation.

‘These are independent individuals,’ he was told. ‘You cannot command them to come to a meeting at your convenience; you have to negotiate a time and a place convenient to them all; you had better send round a list with possible alternatives.’ He did and they came, or most of them did. He explained the new procedures, which, he said, would be introduced the next month. At that point, one of the older faculty members said, gently, 'Bill, in this kind of institution, you cannot tell us to do anything; you can only ask us and try to persuade us to agree.’

‘Well then,’ Bill said, ‘let me ask you what you think we should do to put some sense into this place.'

‘No, Bill,’ the elder replied, ‘that’s what we hired you for, to come up with those sort of ideas. But they will only work if we agree with them. If we don’t, why then you will have to persuade us or come up with some better ideas. This is, you see, an organization of consent, not of command." —Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason1

Many leaders of imaging organizations face challenges similar to the ones that Bill faced. Their organizations are often in need of significant change because of the rapid and severe evolution of the industry. Their organizations are high-talent entities composed of individuals who are smart, talented, and powerful (at least in terms of their organization). Such high-talent individuals have many employment options and, therefore, have a strong sense of independence from both the organization and its leader. They often require leadership of the consent and not command type.

In his important book, Leading Leaders, Jeswald W. Salacuse notes that high-talent organizations are composed of elites: individuals who, because of their "education, talents, wealth, or power are able to exert significant, usually disproportionate influence within their organization."2

One of the key characteristics of high-talent organizations is that the individuals designated as leaders have limited authority over the people they are supposed to lead. Authority, in this instance, is defined as the right, by virtue of one’s position, to direct the activities of another person—in short, to tell him or her what to do. Most leaders of imaging organizations don’t have that level of authority. They can’t say, "Just do it."

In addition, the elite followers often have had a role in choosing the leader; consequently, they feel that the leader is beholden to them, and not the other way around. They do not see themselves as followers, and therefore are quick to challenge or belittle anything that suggests that they are being led.

How do you herd these cats? Over the years, many authors have sought to explain leadership. Some feel that it is a skill honed through practice and study. Others believe it is a rare natural talent, like artistic ability, with which a person is born. For others, it is situational: An effective leader in some situations might be a disaster in others.

Any successful leader of a high-talent organization, however, relies on two key elements. The first is a focus on the relationship between the leader and the person being led. It’s that relationship that causes a person to act in the ways that the leader wants. The second element is an in-depth understanding of the interests and goals of each elite follower, and the ability to communicate effectively that the elite follower can achieve those goals through the organization.

Relationships are based on a perceived connection that exists between leaders and followers, and successful leaders work very hard at creating that connection because they know that effective leadership depends on it.

Different leaders use various methods to create relationships. Some rely on their personal dynamism and charisma, using their special ability to articulate visions, grand designs, or glowing futures in which their followers would share. Others use quiet methods of reason and logic. The common thread that applies to any successful leader is his or