Not much more than a generation ago, in the heyday of the organization-man culture, the idea of leadership seemed to have hardly any major place in the conceptualization of American business. The days of individualistic tycoons in the grand manner, like Henry Ford, were far in the past, and the modern age of the entrepreneur was yet to come. The chairmen or CEOs of large corporations were scarcely household names in the 1950s and 1960s, and they are all but wholly forgotten now. The organization, or to give it an even statelier name, the institution, was all. The very terms "management" and "administration" convey an institutional flavor. One rose in an institution by being a good functionary, and even at the top one remained a functionary.
Today, a generation later, we have come to speak again of leadership. It is likely that as many people recognize the name of Bill Gates as recognize the name of Microsoft; perhaps more do. Competition and technological change have rendered the stately bureaucratic organization of the 1950s and 1950s obsolete. We no longer imagine that because General Motors cranked out so many cars off the assembly line last year that it is inevitable that it will be able to crank out so many next year, or that it will find buyers for them unless they measure up.
Whether GM, or Microsoft, or any firm survives seems now to depend very much on the quality of its leadership. By leadership we seem implicitly to mean not the successful following of established practices, but the ability to respond to circumstances, circumstances that may change abruptly and in unpredictable ways.
According to John Sifonis and Beverly Goldberg, "leaders today are being forced by a combination of forceful stakeholders and economic pressure to grow the profits of their organizations, without growing their organizations permanently." That is to day, new organizational boxes or layers of management are--due to hard...