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Leadership of Outsiders

In my efforts to find a new way to differentiate leadership from management, it has occurred to me that there are lots of examples where leadership is shown by people who are not in a position to manage the implementation of their proposals.


  • Martin Luther King had a leadership impact on the US Supreme Court when his demonstrations against segregation on buses induced that organization to make this discrimination unconstitutional. King had no management position within the US Supreme Court.
  • When Jack Welch advocated a number of novel practices for GE such as being first or second in a market, his actions had a leadership impact on other organizations around the globe.
  • When green leaders such as  Al Gore promote environment friendly policies he could have a leadership impact on communities that he knows nothing about.
  • When Microsoft folllowed the lead of Netscape by introducing Internet Explorer, Netscape had a leadership impact on Microsoft.

All of these, and many similar, examples have 2 important features in common. The leadership shown amounts only to showing or promoting a better way and, second, there is no involvement on the part of those showing leadership in managing implementation.

Crucially, these examples share the same features with bottom-up leadership where the innovative knowledge worker promotes a new product to senior management.

To capture these kinds of leadership in a general theory, we must define leadership as simply showing a better way based on challenging the status quo or simply doing something different. To me, this move makes it perfectly clear how leadership and management differ. The hard part is convincing executives to accept that they are managers for the most part who only show leadership when they advocate change, that even managing change is a management function.

For more on this way of viewing leadership, see my book, Burn: 7 Leadership Myths in Ashes, 2006.