The Matter With the Mainstream
Great leaders are purpose-centered, not power-hungry. They work for a cause larger than themselves and grander even than the particular organization they head, as America's Best Leaders 2006 demonstrate. Their legitimacy comes not from the power they wield but from what they do for others. They are humble in the face of the magnitude of their tasks, so they temper the inherent self-confidence of accomplished people with glances at the mirror of accountability held up by those they serve. They reinforce confidence in the institution as a whole-by demonstrating that they are accountable to stakeholders, work with them collaboratively, and empower people inside the organization to speak up, speak the truth, and take initiative.
The courage to challenge conventional wisdom, to confront an establishment with its flaws, can change closed empires into collaborative marketplaces of ideas, with all the accompanying messiness of dissent and all the promise of better days ahead. Challenging the status quo is the beginning of leadership.
We should be wary of establishments. But if that's all we conclude, we would miss the opportunity to turn the mainstream into streams of opportunity. The principled, innovative leaders we celebrate as America's Best show that there is more to leadership than high office. Perhaps those at the top can learn a lesson or two from leaders who emerge from the middle. Their values-based leadership can replace any hunger for power with the deeper satisfaction that comes from a lasting legacy of service to the world.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter is the Arbuckle professor at Harvard Business School, author or coauthor of 16 books, including Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End, and a member of the Best Leaders selection committee.