A Genius with a Thousand Helpers

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses a leadership model he calls “A genius with a thousand helpers.” The style describes a leader who is really good at what he/she does and so he/she calls all the shots. However, unwilling to teach the followers, the leader retains all of the knowledge of the organization’s decision making philosophy. When questions arise, the group must rely on the leader for direction. Due to the lack of knowledge, when the leader leaves, the group is lost.

Aside from the imminent truth that the organization will suffer when the leader is gone, I see another huge disadvantage to the model. There is no real leadership! Leadership is mentorship and trust. Under these conditions a group member will not receive the mentoring necessary to feel confident about the organization’s decision-making process. Furthermore, not being asked or allowed to make decisions can create a question of trust between the group and the leader. As this cycle continues, the group will progressively make less and less decisions (even small ones). They may think “Why bother making the decision and take the chance of being wrong? The leader is going to make the final call anyway and I have no idea what he is thinking.” It should be clear to see why this model does not work for the long-term. It may be an easy trap for a leader to fall into when they have most the group knowledge and quick decisions to make, but is key to be able to escape it when the chaos has cleared.

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