The Leaderless Organization

October 29, 2007

First of all let me say I’m really delighted to be guest blogging here this week. Thank you to Dave and I look forward to hearing the views of the smart people that check in here frequently.

I’ve just finished reading a very popular management book in the States that mentions in its subtitle “The Leaderless Organization.” This gave me pause because the phrase sounded familiar. What was it reminiscent of?

Then I remembered the early days of “Office Automation” and the glowing predictions in the 80s of the “paperless office.” One of my favorite comments on that came from an industry pundit named Amy Wohl who said, “We’ll have the paperless office when we have the paperless bathroom.”

Someday in the very distant future (say, when we evolve past the age of Homo sapiens) we might have leaderless organizations as the predominant organizational model, but in the meantime we need leaders. When we’re in the midst of chaos, we want leaders who decide intelligently and quickly, put ideas into play and determine what’s working and what’s not. In complex contexts, we want leaders who can read weak signals and patterns that emanate from the organization. In simple contexts, we want leaders to determine policies that help us avoid reinventing the wheel. And certainly, when things are complicated we want experts – not a bunch of uninformed opinions.
As for me, my office still has piles of paper (not to mention all those books). And I’ll put my money on the organizations that have leaders. Are any of you proponents of leaderless organizations? Paperless bathrooms?

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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