A contradiction?

A Pragmatic Leader. Does this sound like a contradiction?  In popular culture we often see a leader portrayed as a visionary, a person who is always pushing to achieve a high goal, and who fights to avoid compromise.

But is this image accurate?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s a “compressed image” of great leaders which our culture preserves after they are gone.  In reality, when you examine their lives more deeply, you will find that most leaders – both the celebrated and the common – had to be pragmatic in their day-to-day work.  No vision was ever achieved in one go – and seldom without sacrifice, self-discovery, and collaboration.  Along the way, nearly all great leaders had to accept defeat, and to adjust to a changing world as well as to the people they worked with.  It’s fair to say that dogmatism on strategy and tactics has never been a sign of great leadership.

In our current world there is more place for leaders and leadership than we imagine. In the developed world we see now a slow evolution of the social structures from large, command-and-control organizations towards more distributed organisms made of collaborating smaller groups. The proliferation of startups that now seem to pop up everywhere – each with its leaders animated by a vision they are willing to bet their future on – is another manifestation of this change. Numerous non-governmental organization follow the same model albeit with different goals. As the hierarchical model is being abandoned even in the corporate world the role of managers changes there too – leadership is now more valued.

The change I just described is was brought about by movements such as Agile, Lean and influential books like “Management 3.0” or “Radical Management” that I collectively call “The New Wave of Management”. Along with all the positive changes they bring, however, a huge load of dogmatism that makes the followers blind to limitations of their methods and processes. The key message seems to be “everything that was done before us was wrong and dysfunctional”. And despite the declared focus on persons those methods still primarily discuss processes, tools and tricks.

I believe a good leader of today should be more pragmatic than that. He or she should see methods, methodologies and processes as just tools in his “leadership toolbox”, recognizing both their advantages and limitations. And he or she must be a much more humane, more people-centered leader. A Pragmatic Leader must consciously create an inclusive culture (even if for a carefully selected team), one that is rooted in genuine respect for others as humans, a culture that will help them grow. Only in such environment people have a chance to go beyond their perceived limitations and deliver astonishing results.

This website is for those of you who want to be such leaders.


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