Allan R Cohen feels that the heroic leadership style such as exhibited by Jack Welch or Steve Jobs is outdated and too often creates superstar “cults” around these strong (“heroic”) personalities. He feels that leaders today need to be able to both lead and manage and that there should not be some people called “leaders” and others called “managers”. If you can only manage, you are unable to work with vision, and if you are all about vision, then you may not be good at making things happen. According to Cohen, people at all levels of an organization should be able to lead and also manage, when needed. This goes against other philosophies that advocate that those strong personalities are the very thing that can inspire people and rally them around a cause.
I do think there is some value in the heroic model since I have personally seen the value of an inspiring personality in getting everyone onboard with a new vision or direction. They are often able to create an emotional appeal that can create strong motivation in a team of “followers”. However, I would argue that several things have to be in place in order for this to work longer-term.
1) The team members need to feel that they can make a difference and are allowed to make some leadership decisions of their own. The emotional motivation created by the leader often can spur significant creativity in the team-members, if they are given the latitude to use creative solutions and ideas.
2) Team members need to be able to pick up the management functions that are required. This is where Jim Collin’s “Get the right people on the bus” has significant value. The leader also needs rolls up his/her sleeves and sometimes gets involved in management and operations duties alongside the team. At Westjet, employees have been impressed by the fact that the CEO will sometimes be seen cleaning up the airplane.
3) The team members need to feel there is a reward of some kind for them stepping up to a leader’s vision. If we think of unproductive labour negotiations, they often occur because labour does not think that there is anything in the new ideas that makes sense for them.