Captain Ahab and the Modern Enterprise

Perhaps we need to re-examine our practice of building corporate reputation through CEO visibility  and thought leadership.  This reflection is prompted by Stefan Stern’s comments in The Financial Times today on the concept of centred leadership developed by McKinsey’s Joanna Barsh.  Barsh’s model grew out of her team’s work on women leaders in business and focuses on five principal strategies — developing meaning, managing energy, positive framing, connecting and engaging.  What caught our attention was Stern’s coupling of this concept with a commentary on the retirement announcement of Tesco’s legendary leader, Sir Terry Leahy.  Stern warns us against fitting Leahy’s success into the mythology of the lonely heroic leader.  Tesco’s success was a team effort, as Sir Terry himself points out, lasting for decades.

We’re not sure exactly how the centered leadership model fits, but Stern is clearly stating that the global enterprise of today is too complex to be led by the lone, heroic leader as radical soloist.  If this is true, we need to find a better way to nourish corporate reputation than by creating leaders in the image of Captain Ahab — driven, charismatic, inscrutible, Olympian.  Sustained strategic credibility in the new model will come from showcasing the cohesion, creativity and connectedness of a group of leaders.  In some companies, this already happens organically.  For the rest of us, centred leadership may be a useful wake up call to change the default mode from Moby Dick to The Seven Samurai.

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