Leaders and Cowards…


A while ago I was introduced to Stanley Milgram (not personally, we’re not that close) and his experiments.

Essentially, Milgram postulated that what happened in Nazi Germany could easily happen in the USA (Abu Gharib anyone?) and anywhere else in the world for that matter.

In other words, if left unchecked, authority without responsibility, would result in evil.

In a business sense, evil may be too strong a word but as we’ve seen, when managers CEOs and the like are given free-ranging powers to act without having to answer to anyone, things go pear-shaped PDQ. We’re thinking Goldman Sachs, Freddie Mac, Frannie Mae, AIG etc here…

I once worked for an organisation like that (ironically, this is also where I was told about Milgram and his experiments). The management system was essentially a line of office-dwelling box-checkers, with the authority to implement decisions from on-high but shouldered none of the responsibility for any errors or negative outcomes. In fact, because the responsibility for the outcome was taken out their hands, all they had to do was pitch up and pick up their paycheques. The problem is that because they had no authority, they couldn’t innovate. They couldn’t reverse poor decisions. The power to do anything other than pay lip-service to their superiors was non-existent.

Against the odds (and mostly due to some REAL work being done on the part of the head office and the sales teams), the company continued to exist, albeit a little less successfully than it was. Of course, to protect their position, the same management team were willing to sacrifice a lot of talented individuals (essentially resulting in a near 100% staff turn-over in the space of 18 months). Pears, anyone?

Where am I going with this? Real leaders take responsibility for their decisions. They shoulder the blame and share the credit. If your management structure leads your organisation from the rear, you can be sure it’s gonna be yours in the firing (and the unemployment) line when things go wrong. It’s not evil; it’s just cowardice. Don’t put your future in the hands of cowards.

A little something extra: here’s a fascinating TED Talk by Philip Zimbardo, a contemporary of Milgram. WARNING: there are some disturbing images in here.


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