A Fruitless, Nay Dangerous, Search

Read two superb articles in the Arts section of the New York Times yesterday. One, on the playwright-director David Mamet (whom I’ve loved since Glengarry Glen Ross). The other, “Ms. Monk’s Master Class,” on the successful composer Meredith Monk. Both are indeed supremely successful, and both have moved beyond solo paper-and-pencil work to leading artists who perform their works. Forget the details, the two have very different “leadership styles.” Which got me thinking about Francis Coppola, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, TR, FDR (cousins no less) and the fact that the pursuit of the “one best way” of leadership is sheer madness, and a great disservice. Jim Collins and I agree about a lot of stuff but depart over the leadership issue. He prefers “quiet, humble, stoic” (though determined) leaders. I lean toward the Welches, Gerstners, Churchills, and those for whom words such as “quiet” and “humble” are rather inappropriate. Well, obviously, there’s room—lots of—for both. But surely there are some constants—e.g., the way the winners treat people. Well, I’d love to think so, but even that’s far from the truth. Lord Nelson was beloved. Gerstner was feared. The same guy is different—even in the eyes of those closest to him. The two most famous people who died with Robert Falcon Scott in Antarctica were Titus Oates and Dr Edward Wilson. Oates on Scott: “I dislike Scott intensely. He is not straight. It is himself first, the rest nowhere, and when he has got what he can out of you, it is shift for yourself.” Wilson on Scott: “There is nothing I would not do for him. He is a really good man. He is thoughtful for each individual, and I have never known him to be unfair.” Try to distill “Scott’s Leadership Principles” from that!

And the point? Just this: Beware of “universal prescriptions” for anything—but perhaps leadership topping the list. (But you knew that already—it’s just that these two NYT articles, and my re-immersion in Scott following my Christchurch NZ visit, led me to remind myself; so I thought I’d pass it along.)

Tom Peters posted this on January 30, 2006, in Strategies.
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