From dictator to partner

Being an organization’s leader today can be as fascinating as it is challenging. In a rapidly changing world, role models do not have it easy. The responsibilities of the person at the helm of an enterprise can never be taken for granted, nor the power he or she wields.

Leadership - from dictator to partner Norbert Biedrzycki

Being an organization’s leader today can be as fascinating as it is challenging. In a rapidly changing world, role models do not have it easy. The responsibilities of the person at the helm of an enterprise can never be taken for granted, nor the power he or she wields. In the next few articles, I will look at leadership and explore how best to manage and lead companies and build efficient teams.

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group, once said that a company should serve as a springboard for ambitious employees, not a set of shackles. The springboard, of course, is the kind that launches careers, and it can only function as it should if the leader embraces this concept.

This view of leadership, although relatively new, should no longer surprise business people. When a leader sees his or her job in this light, the business will be driven by the work of a team. The leader helps the team; the business’s success is mirrored (and can be gauged) by the growth and success of its employees. Thus, leaders not only set business goals, they act as coaches, advisors and partners, inspiring people with their vision. In managing employees, they help people reach their potential, ideally identifying future leaders along the way. One of the many missions of the modern leader is to spot talent and, ultimately, anoint a potential successor. This can only occur when a good leader (to paraphrase Branson) becomes the springboard, allowing workers opportunities for self-expression, improvement and professional achievement.


Leadership through business history

I subscribe to the springboard theory of leadership, although many may consider it utopian. Before I elaborate on leadership based on dynamic relationships between employees and their bosses, I would like to note some of historical models of leadership to illustrate how much they have changed over the past few decades.

Until the mid-20thcentury, leaders were perceived as omniscient, unassailable and all-powerful. They dispensed wisdom and used rewards and punishments to make sure their plans were executed. Their key responsibility was to control their subordinates, mainly through non-negotiable directives. This dictatorial model effectively thwarted the free flow of ideas throughout the company.  A good employee was docile and obedient.

Over time, the authoritarian model of management was replaced with one that appreciated and sought the contributions of the people around the leaders. This transactional model was first deployed in global business in the mid-1970s. Leaders established their position through personal relationships. They negotiated terms of mutual understanding and cooperation. Nevertheless, they reserved for themselves the final word, limiting their workforce to an instrumental role.

An important change in leadership behavior emerged at the turn of the century. With the growth of complexity in modern enterprises, the contributions of team members and managers gained greater importance and recognition. As a result, a leader’s charisma became more critical as an organizing principle around which the enterprise could rally, while individual employees were understood to be essential to value creation.

Recently, a new organizational management model has emerged based on the belief that a strong team should be able both to define its vision and select its leader by an internal vote. This democratic model has become central to the culture of start-ups and innovative technology companies, where it underpins their competitive strategy.


The leader trains his successors

The leaders of today’s modern organizations are no longer the alpha and omega – not for their boards and not for rank-and-file employees. Their authority is relative; their omniscience is no longer irrefutable, especially considering the proliferation of tools easily available for accessing information. And that is precisely why leaders today must create networks of loyal partners or co-leaders on whom they can count in the management process. They should build a decision-making system that is as decentralized as possible, facilitating the delegation of responsibilities, the empowerment of managers and effective time management.

The leadership theories I find compelling are called transformational. They presume that the leaders’ success and strength lie largely in his or her ability to delegate appropriately and effectively, inspire enthusiasm and sell their visions by making them as attractive to employees as possible. As employees follow their leaders, they optimize their potential and learn new skills that will help them become leaders themselves. In other words, great leaders have a passion for training and maximizing their peoples’ performance based on the ideas that are central to their business.


The vision thing

TheAmerican management guru Steven Covey, known for his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, enumerates various prerequisites for enjoying a sense of achievement in both personal and professional life. In addition to being proactive, a good listener and skilled at managing one’s time and upholding clearly defined values, Covey lists another critical success factor: the ability to start each task with the knowledge of what is expected when the project ends. Although Covey mentions this in a chapter devoted to personal improvement, the rule applies just as well to leadership. Being guided by a complete and compelling vision can boost a leader’s own confidence and allow him or her to inspire others. The winners in the modern world of business are those able to create such a vision, an enthralling image, and share it with others, making it as vivid to them as it is to the leader, by whatever means necessary. In other words, winners are communicative visionaries capable of articulating goals and ensuring that their people have the tools to make their vision a reality. And, in the process, they provide their subordinates with a sense of being partners in the undertaking.


The leader’s decalogue

No one is born a leader. Instead, I believe that most people possess certain attributes and predispositions that they can develop to become more capable leaders. If I were to attempt to name some of the arrows that the successful leader carries in his or her quiver, I would (at the risk of cliché) choose optimism, empathy, self-confidence, honesty, respect for others and a belief in one’s values – all of which help leaders gain credibility with others. Being genuine is vital as without authenticity even the greatest vision can become a caricature of itself. As soon as managers detect falsehood in the leader’s message, or a contradiction between words and deeds, the brightest vision dims.

I also think that even the most outstanding and charismatic individuals often forget one critical thing as they interact with their co-workers: communication. Stating one’s intentions clearly and precisely and properly managing information is crucial for both completing each stage of a project and for inspiring others. Deficient communication will not only spell the demise of an otherwise good project but also create misunderstandings that will pull the rug out from under even the most ambitious and competent leaders.


Put people first

A leader’s success hinges on a host of factors. It is certainly wise to realize that power must never be taken for granted; it may be short-lived; it may affect those around you in unforeseen ways; it must be deployed thoughtfully and humbly. Based on my own experience, I believe that a leader’s success is contingent upon building proper relationships with the people he or she works with and making them believe they are indispensable to the success of the project – as they are. Add to this remembering the importance of good communication, sincerity, and truthfulness. The leader must believe completely that the largest projects are only completed successfully when autonomous individuals can work together as a team.

If you can do all that, you will embody a definition of modern leadership to which I can confidently and enthusiastically subscribe.


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Leave a Reply


  1. Tom299

    Digital means to me that People, Business and Things are interacting as equal players in end-to-end business processes across value networks to deliver well defined business services and their value proposition whereby the customer experience is part of the value proposition.

  2. AdaZombie

    Not only in digital. Leadership challenges in the global world, complex problems – no easy answers, why we blame on authority. World is already complex more than before. We are connected, all is transparent & globalized. New technologies enable greater social influence/ manipulation. Here are a few, only few examples of global, complex problems requiring good leadership and world cooperation:
    – Arab-Israeli conflict
    – Conflict in Syria
    – Immigration crisis & radicalization of Islam
    – Radicalization processes in European countries – turn towards nationalisms
    – Over population vs. aging societies
    – Global warming and environmental dangers: pollution, lack of drinking water, floods and other natural disasters
    – Technological revolution and challenges connected to development of AI, robotics & machine learning – unemployment, disruption of job market
    – Economic problems

  3. Adam Spark Two

    LEADERSHIP VS. AUTHORITY -> it is critical to recognise how leadership differs from authority;
    In politics e.g. member of goverment or presidents have auhority. In business CEO or board members or managers at different levels. Sometimes we say about bad leaders that failed to deliver in the context of people holding authority. We expect people holidng authority to solve problems, in particular our problems. But are they capable to do so? Do they have leadership qualities that make them use the authority to solve problems, address chalenges?

    How many political leaders are remembred for what they did/achieved/problems solved? Transformational leadership that changes the world in a positive way? Examples? Why we have crisis in EU? US elections? Populists? Is it lack of leadership? Why so many companies get bunkrupt? Gready bankers? Where are the leaders that transform the world in a positive sense? Many people ask those questions – why? I share few more thoughts on this later.

    Important: leadres can lead with or without authority.

    • SimonMcD

      It is the most important success factor. If you plan small you end small. If you plan big you have a Chance to end big, no guarantees though! No naive ambition; naive is when you say it but have no idea how to achieve it. You need to understand critical success factors and manage risk.

  4. Grzegorz Wiatr

    Valid point. Re-qualification is an important mechanism to aid the transition from more to less automatable jobs. Important not to dismiss the importance of providing retraining and social protection for young workers and those in low-skilled jobs.

  5. Jack666

    I absolutely love that. There’s been numerous times that I’ve come across teams that are only concerned with the deliverables and how to close out the project on schedule and budget; while these are important goals, the client and their wellbeing should always be at the center of all decisions.
    I only see people tracking cash flow and not the actual impacts and satisfaction with the work being produced, atleast not on a weekly basis. Certainly a trick I’ll be using moving forward
    Thanks for the insights, and I’ll be following you to learn more of your outlook on business and entrepreneurship.

    • Norbert Biedrzycki  

      Thank you. Hope you’re gonna like next in the series of Leadership

      • Mac McFisher

        A lot of people consider leadership in the contex of working with other people – I even remember one of previous Deloitte’s global CEO’s who said that for him leadership is followship; in this context people would say that there is a charismatic leader followed by a group of believers (employees, fans, supporters) etc. Followship refers to the qualities of the leader – appealing leaders have followers. Example in politics: Barack Obama; in business: Warren Buffet

        For me this is key to leadership – to lead is to drive change that impacts people.

        • SimonMcD

          You need how to get there – strategy answers on how?. If you don’t have strategy your aspiration may be „naive”. Strategy is what you do and not what you say – you always need to walk the talk – it is suprising how often people talk but not do…. Talkers are not achieveres….

        • Check Batin

          How about taking the middle ground? Some jobs are lost and some new ones appear. Theres going to be a shift in the marketspace, which will benefit some and hurt others.

        • Adam Spark Two

          There really is no way of getting around it. Sooner or later companies are going to have to embrace millennial leaders. After all, the ones that came before are going to keep retiring. Even before that happens, the old guard going to start losing touch with what an ever-growing group of customers wants, needs and pays attention to.

  6. TonyHor

    We really mean we want to discourage people as thinking of it as *the* career path, not that we want to delegitimize the development of those sets of skills altogether. Probably we should/will change the wording, but I think we got to this phrasing because we’re trying to counterbalance the prevailing culture in which people generally believe that the best people move up this specific ladder and if you fail to climb the rungs, you must be inferior in some way. People are multi-dimensional and these skills are just one of many dimensions they might develop.

  7. JohnE3

    Why do you make a point of saying management vs leadership is not a career path, yet you seek to avoid promoting good functional people into management if they lack the necessary skills? I can see where it might be desirable to have “manager” as a rung on someone’s ladder, but if someone wants to specialize in the particular set of skills necessary to be a quality manager, wouldn’t you want to acknowledge that as a legitimate career choice?

    • Tom299

      – What makes someone a good leader?
      – Who can be a leader? Born or trained leaders?
      – What is the most important feature of great leader? Charisma? Look? Emotional intelligence? Persistence? Wisdom/intelligence? Big picture thinking? Team player?
      – Values in politics? Can you win elections without overpromise and lies? Can you lead a company with integrity and full honesty, without window dressing?

    • Norbert Biedrzycki  

      100% correct. This is actually one of the definitions of Leadership 🙂

  8. DCzaj

    My organizational management experience, the conversations I’ve had with managers, leaders, as well as market trends, client and employee expectations, and the pace of market change all suggest that people, i.e. workers, will long remain vital to every key process, every change and every service provided.

    • Mac McFisher

      Differentation between leadership and management – leaders change the world and managers maintain/cultivate status quo and make sure it works, to some extent we are playing with the words here, very often managers are also leaders and leaders are managers – this is true where leaders are in formal leading positions. But formal position is not required to do leadership; actually you can lead in almost any position e.g. from the back seat. Most often people resist change, it changes stauts quo which is often comfortable or known, change brings the need to adjust or change habbits

    • SimonMcD

      How to survive? Distinguish role from self. Remedies: Family, Personal network development, Sport, Passion & hobby

  9. AndrewJo

    Leader must trust it’s team. It’s all about people

  10. PiotrPawlow

    Now about leadership. Wide spectrum. God bless you

  11. johnbuzz3

    Go into every relationship, try to be hones, win-win situation, whether business or personal, with your eyes open and willing to see people for who they are, not who others say they are. Form your own opinions, don’t let others influence you. I truly believe this should help every organization and every leader.

  12. TomCat

    In the modern economy being an organization leader can be fascinating and difficult at the same time. Try to combine focus on quarterly results and focus on people and organisational health. All the best

    • And99rew

      Are managers really striving to implement narrowly defined tasks, deprived of a sufficiently large dose of imagination and communication skills, do not sometimes cause conflicts within the group, instead of leading them to higher goals and intentions???

  13. John Accural

    Management involves looking at the facts and assessing status, which can be aided by technical tools, such as spreadsheets, charts, and so on. Leadership involves looking at inadequate or nonexistent information and then making a decision. Leaders must have the courage to act and the humility to listen. They must be open to new data, but at some point act with the data available. They must trust their people.

    • Tom Jonezz

      It’s not only about data. Its more about people

  14. SimonMcD

    Management is focused on the short term, ensuring that resources are expended and progress is made within time frames of days, weeks and months. Leadership, which deals with uncertainty, is focused on the long term. The effects of a policy decision to invest in staff development, for example, might never be objectively determined or, at best, might only be seen after many years.

    • DCzaj

      Heart of network organizational structure is its flexibility and efficiency. Coming up with a network structure requires a selection of the best pest available. At the time, for the role and function. The core objective of this should be to support and implement business strategy. Organizations based on network related structure are way too more efficient in terms of reaching their goals

    • Tesla29

      Just think about Leadership responsibility towards AI. Robotic process automation covering more and more rules based tasks is inevitable and you are right that it may bring unexpected side effects like creating more jobs or increasing creativity of those released from boring tasks ..:)

  15. AdaZombie

    We talk of management and leadership as if they are the same thing. They are not. The two are related, but their central functions are different. Managers provide leadership, and leaders perform management functions. But managers don’t perform the unique functions of leaders.

  16. Tom299

    Intersting topic like always. Congrats for your 25th anniversary

  17. Adam Spark Two

    Successful leaders know their talent pool and how to use it. They are experts at activating the capabilities of their colleagues and knowing when to deploy their unique skill sets given the circumstances at hand. Also they create a positive and inspiring workplace culture. They know how to set the tone and bring an attitude that motivates their colleagues to take action.

  18. Mac McFisher

    Leading by example sounds easy, but few leaders are consistent with this one. Successful leaders practice what they preach and are mindful of their actions. They know everyone is watching them and therefore are incredibly intuitive about detecting those who are observing their every move, waiting to detect a performance shortfall.

        • DCzaj

          Right. And this is exactly my observation as well. It’s all about mindsets. Leadership should be earned not given

  19. Jack666

    Successful leaders allow their colleagues to manage them. This doesn’t mean they are allowing others to control them – but rather becoming accountable to assure they are being proactive to their colleagues needs.

  20. Simon GEE

    When you are hiring a leader, it is important to provide goals in a manner that are not unambiguous. Lack of clear goals is usually one of the root problems for new managers. They are put in a role where they are unable to be successful because they have no idea of what is expected of them.

  21. TomK

    The most successful leaders understand their colleagues’ mindsets, capabilities and areas for improvement. They use this knowledge/insight to challenge their teams to think and stretch them to reach for more. These types of leaders excel in keeping their people on their toes, never allowing them to get comfortable and enabling them with the tools to grow.

  22. ZoraBora

    Successful leaders are great communicators, and this is especially true when it comes to “performance expectations.” In doing so, they remind their colleagues of the organization’s core values and mission statement – ensuring that their vision is properly translated and actionable objectives are properly executed.