Are CEO’s powerless to lead?

That might be the conclusion you draw from an article from last week’s Wall Street Journal Business Insight section entitled “Leading from Below” (free link). The authors, James Kelly and Scott Nadler of consultancy ERM, write:

…The truth is that at most companies, senior managers are increasingly hamstrung by the demand from investors and analysts for immediate results. If change is going to come about at these companies, it will be because the managers below the CEO (and below the whole “C suite”…) take the initiative and risks to drive the company in a different direction. Change will have to come from those leading from below, rather than relying on leadership from the top.

Excuse me, but in this scenario, what are the “C levels” doing every day? Going to Davos or TED, I guess.

It sounds as if the authors have seized on a point discussed by Bower and Gilbert in their recent HBR article (link) “How Managers’ Everyday Decisions Create – or Destroy – Your Company’s Strategy,” but, in the case of “Leading from Below,” middle managers crafting and executing their own strategy in large companies is a feature, not a bug.

The point of the article may be that senior leaders should foster leadership throughout the ranks, and not micromanage. All well and good if that’s the case. But if that’s what they meant, I wish they had written it.

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(Picture by lckidwell via stock.xchng)

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