I have been observing over the years how the concept of solving problems for organizations has changed its name. First it used to be called administration. Thus the first journal in the field was Administrative Science Quarterly and schools that were training corporate and organizational leaders were called Graduate Schools of Business Administration.  The degree granted, MBA, still stands  for Master in Business Administration.

When the training apparently did not produce the desired results,  the concept of administration was relegated to a lower level or rank within the organization.  Administrators just coordinated and supervised, and a new concept was born: management. Gradually at first, and then rapidly, schools changed their name to Graduate School of Management.

Apparently that did not work well either and management was relegated to the middle level of the organization. It lost its appeal and a  new word was created:  EXECUTIVE.  Graduate programs for executives and the concept of Chief Executive Officers was born.

It did not produce the desired results either so once again a new concept emerged: Leadership. And books are now  published describing how leadership is different from management.

I believe Leadership is just another fad. Soon, we will have another word.

We are spinning our wheels,  searching for an all encompassing concept that will cover the necessary roles for running an organization. We are all looking for the  concept, a model that will describe and identify the specific kind of person who can jump start an organization so that it is  effective and efficient in both the short and the long run.

The mistake in this way of thinking lies in the expectation:  All the roles are expected to be performed by a single individual, whether he or she is called the administrator or the manager or the executive; or now the leader. In reality one person, even someone extraordinary, can perform only one or at most two of the roles required to manage/lead/direct an organization.

For instance, administration focuses on making an organization efficient in the short run. But while administration is necessary, it is also not sufficient if an organization is to perform at the top of its game over the long haul. It’s fine when it comes to efficiency, but fails to account for corporate effectiveness. So the verdict on Administration: Necessary but not sufficient.

The word management was born to address this deficiency. But  management excellence falls short as well. It helps make organizations effective and efficient, but only in the short run. The need for long term effectiveness, for entrepreneurship, is all too evident.

Enter executive action.   Presumably the entrepreneurial executive makes the organization effective in the long run by being proactive. But soon it was recognized someone needed to reign in the entrepreneur. He was too far out front of the organization. Teamwork is needed and the concept of Leadership became the flavor of the day.

The common denominator for all these failing attempts to define the process correctly is a basic one:   The paradigm is wrong. The paradigm assumes that a single individual can make any organization function effectively and efficiently in both the short and long run.

It  is this notion of individual mastery on which all theories of management are based, whether we call it  leadership or management or whatever new word will emerge in the future.

Let me make the point clearly: An individual who can make decisions that will cause an organization to be effective and efficient in the short and long run does not and can not exist. The roles that produce those results are internally incompatible . The ideal executive does not exist.

In the same way a perfect single parent does not exist.

There is no individual who can excel in performing the whole parenting role all  by himself or herself. One person alone cannot be both a father and a mother. It takes a family to raise children well. A complementary team. And if for some reason there is a single parent,  that person  needs an extended family to help raise the child.

A single leader, no matter how functional, will at a particular point in  time  eventually become dysfunctional.  Over time, as the organization moves its location on the life cycle—- proceeds from early stage success to a booming position within the corporate field—- that single executive will falter; what made him or her successful style wise in the past can be the reason for failing in the future.

Just like parenting. The style that works when the child is a baby does not necessarily succeed when the child is already mature.

The parenting style has to change.

How about changing the leader?

It is a solution, but I suggest it is a second prize choice.

Changing leaders is disruptive. It is like having a string of divorces.  What is needed is collaborative leadership.  Who leads at any point in time depends on what needs to be accomplished.

Look at  a functional family. Who leads, husband or wife, depends on what is required at that point in time.

Same reasoning for companies: To build a company requires a complementary team.  It needs collaborative leadership: A team of leaders who differ in their styles but complement each other.

But here is the problem:

A complementary team, by definition, since it is composed of different styles, generates conflict.  So although conflict is good, although it is necessary and indispensable for good leadership, for good management, it can be destructive and dysfunctional.

What is needed to avoid this potential dys-functionality and destructive conflict is collaborative leadership based on mutual trust and respect.

Collaborative leadership will work only if it is really collaborative, which means that there is mutual trust and respect.

Our management development programs and training of future managers or leaders or executives are all based on the wrong paradigm. They concentrate on  individualism when what is wanted is to train people how to work in complementary teams; how to harness conflict with mutual trust and respect.

We are still trying to develop and train and create this elusive perfect executive, manager, leader. It can not happen. It will not happen. It has never happened.

Our management education needs revamping. Needs to be reengineered.

And our managerial, leadership culture needs redirecting as well.


Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes


(1) Dr Adizes’ books that cover the arguments made here in depth are : The Ideal Executive: why you can not be one, and How to solve the Mismanagement Crisis, both available from Amazon or the Adizes Institute: www.adizes.com