In this chapter Bill McKelvey argues that traditional leadership theory, with its emphasis on the “visionary leader” is no longer valuable. In today’s economic environment, leadership needs to be defined in terms of the ability to create and encourage distributed intelligence across organizations.
When I was at MIT, I was a student of Warren Bennis, one of the leading gurus on leadership. In thirty years this is the first time I’ve written a chapter that has the L word in it. Bennis talks about visionary, heroic leadership, and he talks about this as herding cats. I live with a couple of cats—cats are really dumb and they have no network. There is no human capital or social capital involved in that statement.
What this means is that Bennis’s view of how to get organizations to work is essentially irrelevant to the modern age. There’s no capital, there’s no labor, there’s no human capital, and there’s no social capital in that statement. It all depends on having a visionary leader. And, if you have a visionary leader who can’t get leadership down into the lower parts, you don’t have any complexity. So, we’re dead if we follow Bennis.
What I think we ought to talk about, if we’re in the complexity busi-