In times of rapid change, the quality of leadership is vital to the outcome of what type of society emerges. We are collectively and specifically, in such a time. What goes into good leadership? How can we tell if someone has the leadership qualities needed to guide us forward? These questions confront us every time we go to the ballot box to choose new leaders or when we decide which organizations to support or who to follow.
Societies create structures (systems) that enable us to use our technology to extract resources from our environment to meet our needs. In order to function, these systems require pathways for decisions to be made that facilitate the necessary cooperation and coordination. Societies that create the greatest good for the largest number are the happiest. They tend to be the most stable and they last the longest. But societies are organic in the sense that they all are in a constant state of failure and renewal. The process is very predictable. As they become larger, more complex and more democratic they enter a transformational process and emerge as a different society, a synthesis of the struggle between those who have wealth and power and those who don’t. The transition from any existing (entrenched) system toward the birth of a re-imagined system is rife with conflict as it percolates through the layers of society toward a new day. This adjustment usually creates a period of chaos, often accompanied by violence. It is at these times that leadership is of critical importance.
There are differences between effective leaders and effective managers and these distinctions are critically important. In normal times, decision-makers are needed to keep the existing system working efficiently. They require management and operate through managers whose main objective is to maintain the status quo. The most important quality, and the key to success in a competent manager, is running the existing system and making minor adjustments to facilitate that. However, when society is no longer in working order, new systems must be created so balance can be regained. In normal times decision-makers are not required to be leaders, and often they are not. Leaders require a different set of talents, greater flexibility, the ability to assume greater and different risks, and often greater personal commitment to the cause or to new goals. Because they have real skin in the game, they become, out of necessity, more charismatic. Their overarching ability is to provide a vision for the future and to communicate that vision. Because managers are primarily responsible for maintaining the existing state of affairs and hiring the best workers and bureaucrats to fill key positions, they are not always able to rise to meet new circumstances when the need arises.