Was Pogo Right?

Many of us have been indoctrinated with the general notion that the world can be easily divided into two major camps—leaders and followers. Leaders run things.

Columns From: 9/1/1999 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Chris Koepfer

Many of us have been indoctrinated with the general notion that the world can be easily divided into two major camps—leaders and followers. Leaders run things. They make all the decisions and think great thoughts. Leaders know important stuff that is way too complicated ever to be of interest to followers. Classically defined leadership is tantamount to a secular act of faith. One believes that the leader is all knowing and therefore taking the followers in the right direction.

Followers hunker down and do what they're told. They don't rock the boat in this top-down leadership model. A follower's paycheck should be ample expression of the leader's appreciation for his or her role in the organization.

Increasingly, successful companies are abandoning this linear, monolithic perception of leadership in favor of a more egalitarian approach. I see this in the metalworking shops I visit. Leadership positions in many of these businesses have evolved into a role of facilitator. It's the company leader's job to provide the tools, culture and communication channels that allow everyone in the business, who has the desire, to be a leader within his or her own realm. An interesting result of this fundamental change is that once leaders share some of the leadership responsibility, they have more time to focus on where the company needs to go and lead it there.

Recognizing that most people in an organization can and will contribute when given the chance is a revelation to many who follow the classic leadership model. Enlightened companies are dipping into their in-house talent pool in a big way. Creating a company environment or culture where everyone feels secure about participating beyond the traditional role of follower is the new definition of leadership.

Now, all that said, I'm not suggesting that metalworking enterprises turn all "touchy-feely" with leaders and followers holding hands in a circle singing "We Are The World" or "Kum Ba Yah." No, it's not about that. The business term for what we're talking about is asset utilization. The revelation for many shops is that so-called followers are indeed an asset. Everyone in an organization can make contributions.

There is an expression that comes from a defunct comic strip called Pogo. Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and they is us." Leadership today is about recognizing this fact and doing what it takes to change Pogo's words to something like "we have met success and it is us."

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