Do you like Harvard’s new approach to leadership?

Harvard, leadership, Bill George, team work

Leadership in the 21st century has changed. In less than a minute Bill George, Faculty Chair, Authentic Leadership Development at Harvard tells you how:

What Bill George has to say speaks for itself. He is very clear on how he and his faculty at Harvard believe leadership is currently changing.

Do you agree that leadership has changed the way he describes it? Or does it only apply to the Western world? If so, how long will it take before developing countries follow suit? Maybe it doesn’t always apply to the West either? Do most leaders in the West lead the way Bill George outlines? Are the number of leaders applying the new approach to leadership increasing? Has demand and control been abolished from leadership? Or should it? Is team work now more important all over the world? Or on the increase? Is looking at the long term instead of short term results becoming the norm? Has the recent financial crisis been a wake up call that is changing how leadership is done? Or are you of the opinion that leadership will always focus on demand and control and maximizing dividends to shareholders at the expense of a sustainable long term focus?

Video: HBSExecEd – Picture: Michael Cardus

66 thoughts on “Do you like Harvard’s new approach to leadership?

  1. Although, I might agree with this type of leadership, I am unsure if it will maintain.
    There are too many people, particularly those who work themselves up to a point of leadership, that think they have a hold on that position.
    This becomes an arrogance, then they rule: as Captain Ahab in Moby Dick says "There is one God that is Lord over the earth, and one Captain that is lord over the Pequod (his ship)"
    I think that as long as there is a hierarchy of leadership, it will be from the top down.
    Another point is, until, you give people a stake in making a decision, not just giving it, what is their motivation to do the bosses work for him?

    1. William, what you say really applies to the United States. In Europe, Scandinavia in particular, team work and leadership, not management which is what you describe, is along the type of leadership mentioned in the video. Short term thinnking is a problem that comes straight out of the University of Chicago. Until the focus is long term the problems of the world will increase.

  2. Its so much more rational and assumes that leaders are working with people, not widgets. Hopefully its a shift in thinking that will take root.

  3. I agree. How we go about meeting the constant demand of shareholders has changed. It used to be the boss was in charge and it was his way or the highway. That usually doesnt fly in today's culture, where companies often tend to listen to staff input. And staff have come to expect it. It develops employee loyalties as well.

  4. I think the style described in the video is wonderful. I no longer work in a 'traditional' setting but certainly would have welcomed this approach when I did. Of course there are many old school leaders still out there and I imagine few of them would eagerly embrace this style of management, still it's an encouraging trend and hopefully it will continue to spread.
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  5. While I like his idea of what leadership has become I haven't actually seen evidence of it among U.S. corporations. One of the most important things he mentioned from my perspective is a focus on the long term. I don't know where that's happening becasue I just seem to encounter more and more leaders who are really working toward quarterly results, or in the case of newer companies, a quick buyout and exit..

    1. What's always surprised me, Ken, is how authoritarian US leadership is. Above all in multinational companies. It's not actually leadership but management and very similar to management in the developing world. Europe is more or less like described in the video, apart from long term thinking that your country managed to make the world abolish. Agree with you that long term thinking is the most important aspect.

  6. I have no exposure to leadership outside of the western world and cannot comment on it. Although I think collaborative leadership is the way to go, I am not convinced there is a massive shift to it in the western world. And there are still lots of incentives to work toward short-term versus long-term goals. But if that is changing, it is a good thing for the future.

    1. The most important is actually long term goals and having incentives to do so, as you point out, Donna. Short term goals is one of the major problems in the world right now. By the way, in Europe team work and collaboration is more of a norm than it is in, above all, the United States where leadership is much more authoritarian.

  7. Catarina, I think we do see more teamwork in the workplace and I think that part is important. No one person knows it all and drawing good information and ideas from other staff members is invaluable. However, having said that, in the final analysis, I believe one person still needs to be in charge if for no other reason than accountability.

  8. Leadership working collaboratively is the way forward. No one person has all the answers. However intelligent a leader, he needs support and guidance from other leaders and officers. The saying “Two heads are better than one” comes to mind.

  9. I do believe that teamwork and sustainability is the new business leadership paradigm. I volunteer for a global grassroots nonprofit known as Humanity’s Team and we are launching a program called the Conscious Business Initiative which from what I understand, incorporates these values within the framework of spirituality and the fact that as people, we are all interconnected and we are all one. This paradigm, I believe, is essential for the world in which we currently live and for the future.

  10. I have a social media marketing client that coaches executives in corporate America and the main topic she wants me to research this topic of team leadership. While research for her, I have noticed that team leadership is very important and the amount of material out there shows it increases in popularity. I personally do not see it as much these days because I am primarily virtual with my clients. But when I was working for a corporation, I tend to favor team collaboration with my team. I wanted my staff to feel that they could approach me on any improvements, issues, and other topics they may have on the process. Though there were communication issues from time to time, for the most part, this team approach worked for us. Interesting topic, thanks for sharing.

    1. Good points, Sabrina. Am delighted that America is moving away from more authoritarian management, shouldn't call it leadership, because it isn't. In Europe we have been into team leadership and listening to all members of staff for a long time. Above all in Scandinavia. However, since your country is still the only superpower it's important that leadership is approving in your part of the world and pupils from developing countries studying in the US learn how to lead and not manage corporate America style.

  11. `~~.The Leadership is becoming more n more participative.Leadership demands are function
    of current environment.Emergence of BRICS is shifting the leadership .World is looking at these countries for emerging powers.

    1. Leadership has been, in theory, proactive since the 1970s, Rajendra. What Harvard outlines is nothing new. But it's positive that they are now embrasing such leadership theories.

  12. Team based leadership can be a very good thing. Coming from the corporate world I can tell you that it is a two edged sword. I do think that most corporations have a difficulty moving to a team based leadership environment because their systems are not set up that way. It's like Jeri mentioning the school systems. It would take the effort of moving mountains to make changes.
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    1. Affirmative, Cheryl. And even in Sweden where it has been practised for years it's mainly in small and medium sized companies. And now with the global economic downturn it simply isn't going to happen. What would they do with all managers on C-level positions and higher? Getting rid of all of them would cost billions of dollars on a global scale.

  13. I have to agree with Sherryl. What made Ronald Regan a great president is that he relied on his team and he listened to them. He admitted that he didn't have all the answers. Many companies are adopting what they call team leaders. Our current president thinks he can do it himself and it is his way or the highway. Very frustrating. One needs to listen to others and no one has all the answers.
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    1. True about Reagan, Arleen. My godmother was a friend of his. It started out with him needing advisors that had the knowledge of different issues that he did not have. And he really listened to their advice in the beginning because he had to.

  14. Good to see Bill George's view on leadership changes, Catarina. I certainly think that companies are exploring ways to provide more effective leadership as it's clear that the old ways of doing business don't work so well. Whether or not this will lead to permanent change remains to be seen – but I would hope so. When growth rates were high anyway, short-cut approaches that were entirely top down still could deliver growth. Nowadays we need to look a lot harder for it and often its the people at the proverbial coal-face that can see what's needed in different areas. By listening to them, leaders can redirect the company to capture the opportunities where they lie.

    1. It's not new in Sweden, Eva. But in the rest of the world it is. Most companies in the world are run in an autocratic way. The fact that the leadership theory is not new unfortunately does not change that. Hopefully the fact that Harvard now advocates this approach will have a positive impact.

  15. I think smart leaders are realising that having solid teams helps build successful companies. Some businesses I worked for had this style so I don't think it is entirely new. However for some decisions it has to be the leader who makes the final decision taking into account the interests of all the stakeholders. I also do not agree that companies will take a longer term view on everything because running a business relies on decisions for the short term as well as the long term. Perhaps it is a case that they may have a more strategic approach which then helps to make sure the short term decisions are still in line with the strategy.
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    1. Hope that will happen, Susan. It's interesting isn't it that what has been done in Sweden for a long time is now considered a new approach by Harvard. Tells us a lot about leadership in the United States, doesn't it. And what Americans have commented here shows they are indeed behind Northern Europe when it comes to leadership.

  16. In the armed forces, the top brass will collaborate in the operation rooms, but in the battle fields collaboration is minimum.
    In the developing world, there is limited collaboration on the top level, but in villages and in small private companies people live and work together and listen to each other.
    In the developed world, corporations, enterprises and governmental agencies are huge, however with the Internet and other means of communication they benefit from collaboration.
    I am an Egyptian, live in Egypt and respond to the White House Correspodance with interest .

    1. True, Adel. Do you find leadership has changed in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak? Is Morsi less authoritarian? Presumably you work in either the presidency or ministry of foreign affairs in Cairo? If not, I would be really interested in knowing what correspondence you have with the White House.

      1. Catarina, I am 78 years old. In brief graduated in1958, served in the Egyptian Navy until 1977, worked for NCR and ITT until 1988, established and run Lotus Eng & Management unti 2009. For more details you may visit my page on linkidin.
        Morsy will not survive. The Jauary 2011, Egyptian Revolution will take its course.
        Egyptians are not violent and the losses are minimal, we are in a much better shape than all other current and historic revolutions.
        I am on the White House Email list.

        1. Glad that Morsi will not survive, Adel. Was hoping that Amr Moussa, that's an acquaintance of mine would win. But unfortunately the Brotherhood were the only ones that were really organised. Sincerely hope that things turn out for the better and that it does not take too long. Am also on their email list.

    2. Catarina, Mubarak was a corrept dictator and Morsy is a fascist.
      Amr Mousa and all the old guards have to give way to the younger generations.

  17. Catarina, I mostly do see the change in leadership in the USA. Since I no longer work in any other countries I cannot say whether this in the movement there too. I do know that some people with the command style are still having a difficult time with what actually would give them a more productive workforce – a more collaborative kind of leadership.

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    1. Yes, that seems to be the opinon of other Americans as well, Pat. The only area of the world where what Bill George outlines has been the norm for a long time is Scandinavia. Mind you of course there are exceptions to that rule.

  18. Nothing new in this interview, quite frankly. There are lots of companies who have applied these modern management principles for ages, whereas I haven't noticed the rest changing in any positive direction at all. Actually the opposite: The difficult employment situation in most parts of the world have made it possible to treat employees as "subordinates" or "costs" even more than before. As a relatively successful business leader I consider this a real waste. By enforcing a spirit of co-operation, open dialogue (without fear being fired), personal initiative, the permission to fail when trying out something new are some of the ingredients that could free up a lot of new energy and intellectual capital within the company. Whereas a few despotic senior managers can ruin all this and consequently, the company will not thrive in the short, medium or long term.

    1. No, but don't forget that you are Finnish. It's in our part of the world that these leadership principles have been applied fror decades Have lived and worked all over the world and outside Scandinavia/the Nordic countries it's another cup of tea. Treating employees like subordinates is not a phenomena that started with the recent economic crisis and massive unemployment. It has always been the case. Unfortunately it will take a long time for what Bill George, you and I advocate to become the norm world-wide. If ever. One huge obstacle is that the majority of so called leaders in the world are in fact managers. And they will neither step aside nor change:-) As long as they hold the majority of C-level and higher positions world-wide change will be difficiult. Anyway, hopefully the fact that Harvard is pro leadership – as opposed to managment – will have an impact globally. After all a lot of students from the developing world, such as India and China, study there.

      1. Catarina, I know Scandinavia is quite particular, but I've also been working on five different continents and had 300-400 people from approx. 30+ countries reporting to me. It always amazed me how similar values young, educated people have all around the world, if the employer just wants to empower them to show their best at the office. In my opinion it depends a lot on the corporate culture, even more than the country: When I was working for Hewlett-Packard, which we all know is a very traditional American engineering company, the informal and open atmosphere at the office was just amazing. Whereas IBM – ten years later – still felt like a dinosaur, where the senior managers were considered almost like some kind of superhuman creatures, hiding in their offices… One of my own slogans is "Managers manage things, whereas leaders lead people". We need more leaders, I think we all agree on that.

        1. Glad you have come across companies outside of Scandinavia that are leading instead of managing people, Matti. Have also come across some world-wide, but they are in minority. One huge obstacle is what to do with all the people on C-level and higher that are managers and not leaders? Besides only a small portion of human beings have a leadership personality. But even a small increase in the amount of leaders would be positive.

  19. There is much to be valued when it comes to embracing more collaborative leadership styles, but of course, public school isn't going to change anytime soon to offer curriculum that fosters that sort of leadership style. Business and education could learn a lot from each other.
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  20. I love team-based leadership, and have always used that style in leading the non-profit groups for which I volunteer. I haven't worked in the corporate world for 20 years, but from what I've seen and heard, that has changed much from the old days of top-down leadership.
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    1. Glad we agree, Doreen. In Sweden, and from what you say, Canada as well we mainly have the kind of leadership Harvard outlines. However, that doesn't always apply to the rest of the world.

  21. In the Nordic based companies (mother Company based in a Nordic country) we do have a leadership culture based (in most cases) on consensus. This can be very effective in many ways.

    But there must always be leaders who dare to take decisions, even if they are not positive.

    A leader that has the knowledge of various Company Culture styles combined with the ability to be a decision maker is a good combination.

    This is my very own opinion

  22. While I've heard a lot of discussion around the flattening out of organizations and the importance of engaging or leading from all levels, it's not evident to me that the practical application of those ideas has taken root. Someone has to lose power in order for others to gain it and I have not seen many leaders willing to give up power. In fairness, it can also be said, that while many workers would like more control, they are not always interested in more responsibility. So, while i think many leaders are more willing to be collaborative they will often only do it if they can maintain control.
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    1. Agree with you Debra. It will take a long time before "managers" in C-level positions or higher start leading. But hopefully Bill George is right in that leadership is becoming more important.

  23. As I work for academia and small businesses, I don't see much of these sorts of leaders first-hand (I don't pay a lot of attention to college presidents, though I'm sure my clients do). I can say that the leadership at relative's company (a major U.S. corporation) changed recently, but he doesn't seem crazy about them. They've made some top-down decisions that weren't that pleasant.
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    1. Makes sense Leora. Truly wish that leading staff would now replace managing poeple. But I sincerely doubt it. Sure in some companies. But what are they going to do with all the "managers" on C-level or higher?.-)

  24. Catarina — I agree with one of Bill George's observations but not the other. I do believe, as he states, that leadership is much more collaborative and the old "command and control" style of leadership is going out of style because it's so counterproductive. However, I don't think that much has changed in the view — at least in the Western world — that you've always got to be thinking about next quarter's earnings. The markets force that behavior because if companies don't meet the expectations of industry analysts their stock will be punished.
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  25. I'm not sure that I can speak to leadership in the corporate world, domestically or internationally. But, I will say that in my position as a nonprofit director, I think there is a time for the team based approach and a time for a more direct "the buck stops here" approach. Utilizing a team approach to leadership can certainly produce great ideas and motivate employees whose voices are being heard. But, it can also create a gridlock when there are opposing ideas and the defined leaders are not willing or able to take the bull by the horns, so to speak. A balanced approach to leadership in a company, where you truly value employee input and have the confidence to make timely decisions and take risks is the best approach to leadership. As a leader, you must be willing to accept input and feedback and admit when your approach could have been better. A strong leader is not right all of the time, but they are honest about their successes and failures all of the time.

  26. I agree with him. The biggest challenge the old guard had was that they were of the mentality "do as I say… period, I am in charge". That simply doesn't work in the world today. Taking the time to listen to what a staff thinks and their ideas can enhance a companies opportunities and develop employee loyalties as well. There will always be a need to meet the demands of the shareholders. That hasn't changed nor will it in the future. How we go about meeting that demand has and will continue to evolve. Just my thoughts. 🙂
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  27. Catarina,
    You asked if we thought if the Western world has changed to a team based leadership. My belief is that successful companies have made (or are making) this move. However, (and this is just my personal opinion), I don’t believe that our current administration has adopted a team-based collaborative style. Hopefully, our next President will. I certainly believe that President Ronald Reagan embraced this new leadership style.
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    1. True leadership is becoming more important in the Western world, which is great. Until now, a lot of so called leaders have in fact been managers. Hopefully it will not take too long before the developing world adapts leadership instead of management as well.

  28. Hi Catrina.

    Leadership has always been about tapping into people's skills and capabilities, so that has not changed. People are now more empowered and more connected, so leadership has to tap into that aspect of people's capabilities. So yes, big changes, but fundamentally, the same basic goals.

    1. Isn't the big change now that leaders are taking over from managers? So far the majority of so called leaders have in fact been managers. Now empathy and respect is taking over from command and control. But I doubt that what Bill George outlines is happening in all areas of the developing world. It will but I don't think we are there yet.

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