Is the practice of leadership overused?

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Leadership is vital for the success of every company, but to concentrate only on leadership could set startups to fail.

Photo: Bigstock.

Training students to be leaders is one of the dominant educational trends in the 21st century. Two hundred years after the First Industrial Revolution, the memory of the suffering workers without basic rights and unable to build the future they wanted, still weighs heavy on us.

At the beginning of the 2000’s first decade, the objective was clear: to bury the old boss archetype and punt in its place something different. The era of the leader had begun, this new figure of cooperation rather than command would take us to a new level of humanity and productivity in the workplace.

Leaders like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg forged economic and social reality the same way David Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and John Jacob Astor did two centuries ago, in the Boss Golden Age.

In recent interviews, Musk credited his success to the fact of working 120 hours a week, a policy he extends to his workers. He has been exposed to the media several times due to the adverse conditions he put his employees through to reach the company’s goals.

The millionaire entrepreneur model has spread so much that nowadays is the current ideal of the successful professional.  We think that leadership is the only reliable path to success, that there’s no better boss than yourself. Most of the CEO’s of big companies base their speech in motivation strategies. Their deal is to convince us that we can all make it the same way and that we ought to try it if we want a shot to a better life.

If you don’t build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs.

The most known quote by author and motivational speaker Tony Gaskins has become the motto for entrepreneurs and a war-cry for everyone that wants to break free from the employee life to start their own business.

The fate of the people who follow this trend is not always encouraging. On average, the life expectancy for new companies is seven years at most. Thousands of startups close their doors in even less time, from two to five years, for issues such as a bad business plan, inefficient management or financial problems.

If leadership is all we need to succeed, why there are so many companies that don’t make it? It seems that asking what is missing in this equation could lead us to the solution we are looking for, but the problem is what is left over, and although it seems illogical, what is left over is precisely leadership.

The job of a leader is clear: to motivate, evaluate, coordinate and drive the team in the right direction. But if everyone is doing that or wanting to do that, who is left to do the rest of the work?

We live in a culture that glorifies power, in the absence of the classic boss archetype, leaders, even if we’re trying to portray them as servers and enablers, they still represent the most powerful position in the work chain. This is why we romanticize their figure and don’t pay attention to the work of the people who make them leaders and help them stay that way.

Mark Zuckerberg does not produce all the things his platform and his company needs by himself, but he’s the one we give most of the credit for the achievement that is Facebook, regarding business and technology. If he exited the company, they would surely have consequences like monetary losses that could affect even the digital platform.

But if the company accountants make a mistake, Facebook could face bankruptcy, or if the managers didn’t know how to handle the staff, they would constantly be losing people and having to train employees all over again, resulting in a substantial and unnecessary financial investment. This is the kind of situation that ends companies.

Leadership is necessary to coordinate and take the collective work of a team into the right direction, it is a challenging, valuable and rewarding job, but is not the only work that needs to be done to secure the success of every project.

To reach success in a company and ensure a healthy work environment that increases productivity, more than leaders we need experts, managers, even caretakers, in short, workers of widely diverse areas. We have leaders, and with the current approach in education we’ll have more, but what we lack of is understating about the need of people to do all the other tasks around those leaders.