Monday, July 7, 2008

Accept Limits to Your Knowledge and Lead

By: Ancona, Deborah, Malone, Thomas W., Orlikowski, Wanda J., Senge, Peter M., Harvard Business Review,
February 2007, Vol. 85, Issue 2

No one person could possibly stay on top of everything. But the myth of the complete leader (and the attendant fear of appearing incompetent) makes many executives try to do just that, exhausting themselves and damaging their organizations in the process. The incomplete leader, by contrast, knows when to let go: when to let those who know the local market do the advertising plan or when to let the engineering team run with its idea of what the customer needs. The incomplete leader also knows that leadership exists throughout the organizational hierarchy--wherever expertise, vision, new ideas, and commitment are found.

Sensemaking, relating, visioning, and inventing are leadership capabilities. They are interdependent. Without sensemaking, there's no common view of reality from which to start. Without relating, people work in isolation or, worse, strive toward different aims. Without visioning, there's no shared direction. And without inventing, a vision remains illusory. No one leader, however, will excel at all four capabilities in equal measure.

Typically, leaders are strong in one or two capabilities.

Once leaders diagnose their own capabilities, identifying their unique set of strengths and weaknesses, they must search for others who can provide the things they're missing.

About the authors

Deborah Ancona is the Seley Distinguished Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the faculty director of the MIT Leadership Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is also the coauthor (with Henrik Bresman) of X-Teams: How to Build Teams that Lead, Innovate, and Succeed, forthcoming from Harvard Business School Press in June 2007. Thomas W. Malone is the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School and the director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. Wanda J. Orlikowski is the Eaton-Peabody Professor of Communication Science and a professor of information technologies and organization studies at the MIT Sloan School. Peter M. Senge is the founding chairperson of the Society for Organizational Learning and a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School.

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