The following article was written by Tom Brown, former Editor-at-Large for Industry Week magazine. This article was published by several industry magazines simultaneously in the Spring of 1996 and has been edited slightly, removing references that are no longer factual (see second and third paras).
In most companies, if someone says, “It’s time for new leadership!” the phrase conjures up visions of shakeups, overthrows or changed owners.
But John Renesch doesn’t use the phrase that way….
Renesch promotes a form of management and leadership that is “new” beyond the sense that is anti-authoritarian. Instead, when asked about his life mission…..Renesch talks about leadership that is plainly not in evidence in most companies today.
“There is a form of leadership in which everybody has some franchise. People are demanding organizations in which everyone has the responsibility to step up and lead when the situation warrants it,” he says.
“Maybe it’s some special knowledge that only one person has about products or processes or markets – whatever – but that becomes the calling to lead the company for that moment on that issue. And people should sense that they individually must step up and lead. They must overcome the pressure to conform to an ‘it’s not my job’ mental box. This new leadership starts with an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility,” says Renesch.
Now, admittedly, this is heady stuff. When Renesch starts describing his quest to get people talking about “a core place inside people, the true inspiration for all leadership,” you know that he is not your average management thinker.
But some of the very brightest management thinkers of our time have lent their voices to [the] pages [of his publishing efforts], people like Peter Block, Meg Wheatley, Anita Roddick and Peter Senge.
‘NEW LEADER’ PROFILE
So what does a “new leader” look like? “The real work in this field is being done by the CEOs and other senior managers – and even junior ones – who aren’t thinking about different ways to lead, they’re actually trying them out,” says Renesch.
Renesch talks freely about people inside companies who are working for more than profit. “These leaders develop and care for their employees not because it generates more income, but because it’s right. So many ‘leaders’ today are just frying their people to make a profit target,” he says.
Renesch also talks about leaders who see the need to move their companies private, because the investment community seems to be so relentless on ever-higher-profits. And he talks about leaders who will shut down operations that aren’t serving society, that plainly have no future, while embracing the people who worked in those operations.
Perhaps Renesch is most eloquent when he talks about leaders who have a set of values, guiding principles, which they religiously inculcate into their workplaces, without apology or stutter: “I think a new leader hires people who know from Day One what the company stands for and where it’s going.”
This is why, when Renesch features a working manager or management thinker in his [publications], he encourages them to say things that they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in the mainstream press.
Lest any of us too quickly dismiss Renesch… it may be good to recall that W. Edwards Deming was no instant hero when he exported himself out of the United States to talk about quality. And Peter Drucker has confessed in print that not all of his clients over the years welcomed his counsel.
Is John Renesch in that league? Read his writings yourself, then decide.