For some years I have written about “the end of leadership” – about leaders becoming weaker while followers, others, are becoming stronger. This shift has been most evident in the political realm, where in the second decade of the 21st century democratically elected leaders everywhere have a famously hard time getting others to go along. Even the most powerful political leaders seem more often controlled by other players or, for that matter, by the course of events, than in control of them.
This shift has been less obvious in the corporate realm or, at least, less screamingly obvious. In other words, while there has been for some time evidence that what applies to government applies equally to business – and of course to other sectors as well, such as education and religion – the change has been more subtle, less public and less easy, therefore, to see.
This has not, however, meant that business is exempt – a case that was made particularly persuasively in yesterday’s New York Times, in an article by Steven Davidoff Solomon. I’ve provided the link, so need here for detail. Suffice it to cite a few lines from the piece, which argues in no uncertain terms that the heyday of corporate leadership and management is over.
- “Corporate America may try to hide from its shareholders, but two recent shake-ups … show that escape is no longer possible.”
- “Corporate America, previously ruled by chief executives and boards, is racing to do shareholders’ bidding.”
- “As shareholder activists, backed by institutional shareholders, grow stronger, no company is safe.”
It’s a striking argument not because what Davidoff Solomon says is new – but because he says it so forcefully. If he is to be believed, business leaders have just about caught up with political leaders. Like the latter, the former better watch their backs at every turn.