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The Leaders We Need: And What Makes Us Follow by Michael Maccoby

The Leaders We Need: And What Makes Us Follow

By Michael Maccoby
Harvard Business School Press, 2007

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We are in the midst of presidential primaries where one thing is clear: Americans are seeking a different kind of leader. In Leaders We Need, Dr. Maccoby outlines the attributes of such a leader, and applies his model to business and academia, as well as politics.

Maccoby, a corporate strategic consultant on issues of organizational development, explains that the best leaders will have a personality intelligence that recognizes, embraces, and resonates with the dominant social character of its followers. Social character is defined as: “a macro personality describing (shared) emotional attributes and values in a culture or class.” When social character shifts, as America’s is, a new breed of leaders emerges.

To Maccoby, leadership is contextual. The social character and societal goals advocated by a leader. For example, the industrial age was rooted in a domestic model of the traditional family with a father as principal breadwinner and authority figure. This model privileged disciplined, bureaucratic leaders who set clear goals. Business was structured hierarchically with a well-defined pecking order where everybody took orders from the person above and gave them to the one below. The highest value was stability. That model faded in the 1970s.

The 1980s privileged “The Gamesman,” a politically savvy leader who treated work as a game to win. Corporations downsized and people worked “at will.” The social character was team-based with short-term objectives and a focus on transferable skills.

Maccoby calls the new millennial interactives. Raised on twitch-and-click video games, their relationships are fluid and diverse. They are optimists raised to regard parents as “friends” with whom they align laterally as with siblings, creating an affectionate bond tempered by a freedom to critique. They want to collaborate with their leaders for the “common good” and are happy doing so in a virtual sphere.

Enter the need for an interactive hero. Maccoby says the best are democratic (small “D”), with little interest in the trappings of personal power.

I have outlined the bones of a book with a lot of meat and very little flab. Leaders We Need is far-reaching and could, in fact, have been several books since there is a veritable library of fascinating social psychology concepts worthy of deeper exploration. It is rare that I wholeheartedly recommend a book, but I have already pressed my copy into the eager hands of two colleagues.

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