Leaderless teams are a bullshit fad

I am old enough to remember plenty of management fads which claimed to be elixirs for all the ills of organizing.

I probably remember “TQM” (Total Quality Management) best of all, because of its vast popularity despite it being total nonsense.  Indeed, within just a few years, “time to market” had relegated “quality” to the back seat.  And if you think quality is still a driving force, take a flight or call a mobile service provider!

I smell a new TQM skunk! In social media as well as academic journals, there is a lot of vibe about the lessening prominence of leadership as well as the need to focus on enhancing self-management for both the sophisticated nerd and the average Joe.

I have worked with many organizations which put a high premium on leaderless and self-management. Without an exception, they all “outgrew” this or died from decision paralysis and astounding mediocrity.

This short post will provide my perspective on this new religion-de-jour!

1) Leaderlessness and self-management have a manipulative basis.

  •    Empowered by information technology yet bogged down by ERPs and mistrust, it may be sexy to espouse the value of self – management, but it is cunning to an extreme. It certainly does create someone to blame when the system does not work too well.
  •    Power is concentrated in the hands of the ruling class, the tycoons, the powers that be or whatever. A call to “leaderlessness” and self-management sounds to me a general telling his front line troops to “develop the strategy and battle plan”, and then shooting them in the back for being cowards.

2. Self Management in the ERP hell.

In many organizations, ERP has replaced common sense and initiative, and serving the process is so dominant that there is almost no room for either good leadership or self-management. So let’s put the blame where it lies, and not promote the false messiah of self management.

3. Psychology

People need leaders to admire and hate. I see this as a self-obvious truth. Am I too old? Out of touch? Or is someone peddling a new fad?


As the world of work became so complex and high speed, integration between disciplines and perspectives becomes absolutely critical. This integration does not happen by itself, because of ego, power games and bandwidth issues. Leaders drive integration by choosing the right people and leading/managing them properly.

So yes, I do see leaderlessness, holacracy and over dosing on  self management as a new fad and in many cases, pure crap, misleading, manipulative and/or irrelevant.

But it sure is going to be lucrative.

And an afterthought- Organizations and people need leaders; employees, equipped with an end to end perspective of what’s going on. That does NOT negate the fact that  yeam members must learn to  work with their peers to resolves issues without undue escalation.

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3 thoughts on “Leaderless teams are a bullshit fad

  1. I agree Allon that there is a lot of ‘snake oil’ and ‘snake oil salesmen / women’ out there selling the latest panacea to will make cure all the ills of everything.

    As for leaderless and self-management organizations -this is another ‘straw’ that people will hang onto mostly because they nee ‘so-called leaders’ to tell them what to do simply because; 1. they are ‘followers’, and 2. they do not know what else to do…

    In my experience it is not an ‘either / or’ – organizations need both leadership and self-management … although the skills and competencies of leaders need to shift from the old industrial controls to skills in order to create ‘healthy, performance-based work cultures and climates’ -whatever that means to each organizations in their own right. (it is not a ‘stamp’ or a ‘best practice’ that one takes an organization and ‘fits’ it into what-every-one-else-is doing. Each organization has to do their own work and start from where they are at – not where they are suppose to be at based on some guru or some pretty book…

    Anyway, this is all a mute point for there are no ‘leaders’ out there… just people who have their own agenda – and they aren’t telling what that agenda really is… as always, follow the money…

  2. Thanks for recalling what you wrote years ago. I am reminded of a group of all leaders. The Different Drum was the book written by Martin Scott Peck.
    On the other hand Gilmore Crosby lays out Lewinian group dynamics on a traingle. Authoritarianism, Laissez Faire and Democratic Leadership. Democracy has to be learned. It cannot be left to chance. Being authoritative is to assume a position of authority and being responsible for decisions in that position. Being responsible together with other leaders would be authoritative collaboration. That’s a zone of group leadership or distributed capacity that collective learning represents.
    A democratic leader engages such that more leaders develop around him or her, and any attempt to muzzle others dilutes capacity in the group in a sad slide to authoritarianism. All in all leadership is a process of enabling structure within freedom and not an event to event manipulation of Power over others. It is a process of dynamic equilibrium between and with other humans with potential to rise above petty differences. Wish Gilmore chimes in from the Lewinian angle and John Scherer from the Ron Haefitz adaptive leadership angle.

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