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Guido Stein , Professor, IESE, University of Navarra

Less leadership and more action

Mon, 31 May 2010 07:36:41 +0000 Published in Expansion (Madrid)

Almost one hundred million results appear in a matter of seconds in the web search engines if one enters leaders and leadership. Hundreds of thousands of books can be found if one does the same on the virtual bookshop par excellence. As the local saying goes: "No body can withstand so much leadership". There is an inflation of speeches about managers with an almost galactic aura, the leaders, which is inversely proportional to the real need for people who can help us out of the moral and economic quagmire in which we are imprisoned. Normal people but with a will beyond what we are used to, to which they add a clarity of ideas, among others of responsibility, also uncommon nowadays. What do I expect from a leader of that caliber?

Surely, just as there is a genetic code, we can trace a leadership code. Let's take Ariadne's thread: the competencies that transform what we know into tangible actions.

Those of us who work at business suffer from several pathologies that add to the aversion to uncertainty, or fear of dealing with what we do not know and is beyond our control, even partial control. These pathologies are omission, which consists of a blindness to opportunities, and negligence, which is the inability to take advantage of them once they have been detected.

Since the future is characterized by randomness and uncertainty, and this feature influences the achievement of results, it is futile to claim that work management is subject to fixed rules. Rather, effectiveness will depend on the employment of the most appropriate criteria at any given moment. Leaders orient themselves when others get lost.

The right decision is not determined by good thinking. For no real problem is there an ideal solution, nor is there an ideal goal for any real opportunity. Practical problems are concrete, changing and contextualized, hence practical decisions must also be contextualized. This does not mean that managerial action must be irrational, but rather that strict rationality is overcome when the freedom of those who decide and execute comes into play.

Efficiency challenges the limits of logic. Hence, wisdom internship is characterized by prudence rather than accuracy. That is why it is futile to pretend that more incisive legislation or more sophisticated technology will prevent us from practical errors. Deciding involves taking a leap; the decision is not drawn from an analysis, as the conclusion is drawn from the premises. To the intelligence, which financial aid us to think adequately, we must add the will, which financial aid us to want the chosen action. One without the other is weakened.

In order to make an accurate diagnosis, we need objectivity in the face of opportunities and threats and humility in the face of our own capabilities. Which leaders do we know to be objective and humble? To decide effectively, we need magnanimity or eagerness to achieve and audacity or capacity for risk. And to execute effectively, to constancy and strength we must add the trust of those we lead. Easy to say, very hard to do. Therein lies the merit, and the challenge.