James O’Toole in his book Leading Change talks about two types of leadership groups- the Rushmoreans and the Realists. The former in memory of the US presidents whose faces are carved on Mt. Rushmore, each represents a major theme & role in shaping of the American history: Although faced with different challenges and employing different styles, they all never compromised on values such as integrity, trust, listening skills and respect for followers.
The four presidents had different themes and challenges to deal with in their respective times. George Washington (Founding), Theodore Roosevelt (Political philosophy), Thomas Jefferson (Expansion), Abraham Lincoln (Preservation of the Union)
Their approaches may have been different. But what was common to them was that they all believed in values. Their main values were integrity, trust and respect for followers.
Realists on the other hand are the ‘here and now’ leaders who focus on immediate gains. For example Jack Welch was perhaps a ‘realist’ and also an iconic leader. He turned-around a loss making General Motors in a highly profitable company. But the criticism for this type of leadership is that it may lack long-term sustainability. Because here the end justifies the means. This is of course debatable as on several occasions quick results are needed to survive.
The US recession triggered by the ‘sub-prime’ market has shaken up the US economy directly and other economies of the world indirectly. We know of the collapse of good companies such as Enron, WorldCom, Satyam and others. The main cause attributed is corporate greed and the temptation for short-term gains. How and why did these leaders get into the trap of losing their companies corporate soul? The issue therefore is why do some of the best business leaders violate the fundamental values and ethics and bring about grief in their own and in the lives of their people? Especially when all these companies were had powerful value and ethics codes.
The 21st century environment is going to pose a myriad of challenges and complexity. Depleting energy and other resources, terrorism, pandemics and natural calamities are among a few. How should the leaders of the future develop their capabilities? Is Rushmorean leadership now relevant? How can leaders win the support and trust of the people they lead?