Does leadership matter? How important is the CEO, say, in charting organizational strategy? Could, in effect, anyone lead without the same results?
Tim Harford, the economist author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, is better than most at taking arcane academic material and rendering it comprehensible (think Daniel Goleman, Marcus Buckingham or Malcolm Gladwell). Harford’s argument in Adapt is leadership matters less than we think it does. Using an array of case illustrations from industry and government, Harford makes the case that what works best is less a great Plan A, articulated by the chief, but a culture that permits dedicated individuals to work almost simultaneously on Plans B, C and D.
Akin to evolution, where success (survival via selection) emerges from countless failures (extinction of species), the real linchpin for sustainable success seems to be having many irons in the fire, so to speak, such that some can fail (without dooming the organization) while others succeed. And it is this quality, in Harford’s analysis, that counts for more than a singular great leader.
I agree, to a point, but argue back that, especially in small organizations (say, under 500 employees, like most independent and international schools), leadership style translates into a culture that either rewards and encourages experimentation or not. The pivotal role that a head of school plays in cultivating a culture is one of the reasons why some have said that independent schools are among the most “leadership sensitive” organizations out there.
So leadership matters, and it matters a lot, but not in the form of an army general or field marshal as the architect of grand strategy, but rather by creating the sort of culture that raises the probability of fruitful trials amid all the errors.
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