I’m a fan of planned obsolescence when it comes to management. That is, I believe a goal of managers should be to make themselves unnecessary to the successful operation of their organizations. Not only can this be done by creating a structure that enables it, but by helping those who are managed to develop leadership skills such that they no longer need to be led but can function autonomously. In other words, I believe good leaders don’t just get people to follow them, they create more leaders.
Because we have a limited ability to ingest information we tend to focus on targets that stand out from the others of similar nature. This can create the perception that the target of our focus is the only such target in existence, or that all other similar targets are relatively insignificant. For example, when I think of US military leaders in WWII I think of General McArthur first, and then…I can’t think of a single other. Granted, I haven’t studied WWII history, but I’m sure I’ve heard of other leaders from that era. But McArthur is the one that has stuck. Because McArthur is the only leader I can remember, it would be easy for me to assume that he was the greatest leader of WWII and that all other military leaders in that conflict were insignificant by comparison. Of course nothing could be farther from the truth.
I think it’s safe to conclude that WWII was an operation that dwarfs any other since, even Wal Mart. An operation of that size, let alone a fraction of that size, requires more than just one or a handful of extremely talented leaders. It requires tens of thousands, and the more the better. Not that it would be good to have everyone trying to be in charge, but the more people who are capable of being in positions to successfully direct others, the better. Not only does this protect against organizational failure in the case of a casualty, but I believe those who have the most leadership skills also make the best followers.
If we can assume that organizations made up entirely of leaders have the best chances for success, then the question is how to develop leaders and turn those leaders into better leaders. It is by having enough good leaders to begin with. If an corporation starts with a small number of employees, it had better make sure every one of those employees has leadership potential, because as more employees are hired on, those who have been there longer and therefore theoretically have more experience will naturally be called upon to lead those who are newer and learning. If that leader lacks the ability to create more leaders from those who are hired, his department or organizational unit will stop growing after a certain point and will hamper the overall growth of the company. If, on the other hand, that leader can not only manage his employees but help them to become leaders themselves, either he will be able to grow his department or contribute to the company’s overall growth by providing an ample supply of leaders who can go out and train their own new hires.
The major challenges to this happening is pride and fear. Pride tells the manager that if his employees become as good and capable as he is then that diminishes his own status, even if it is only because of his capable leadership that they become so. Fear tells the manager that if his employees become effective leaders then they might take his job, or his job might become unnecessary. But the manager who is both humble and confident will understand that he will be rewarded, directly or indirectly, by his ability to create more leaders and so he will see the success of those he manages as contributing to his own success, even if they should pass him by on the corporate ladder. And if the company at which he works doesn’t work this way but instead does exactly what his pride and fear tell him they will, then he will leave and find a company that recognizes and rewards his abilities for what they are.
Of course no organization is perfect, and employee mobility isn’t 100% fluid, but over time organizations that reward leaders who create more leaders, all other things being equal, will become the more healthy specimens and those that don’t will cease to exist in a corporate playout of natural selection.