Effective Leader, Good Leader or Neither? The Osama Bin Laden Question

The announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden shocked the world. His death has of course been met with many reactions among those affected by his actions and views over the last 15 years. Without wanting to be insensitive to those tragically affected by his actions, it must be remembered that while a criminal to many, Osama was to many something of a freedom fighter, even hero, to others. It depended from which direction you were looking into that fish bowl called life. Whatever your view, we can say his actions ignited the most radical over-haul of security and geo-political policy since the late 1940’s.

He effected change in so many facets of our life that his impact will be remembered for generations. In my ‘home grown’ Leadership training program ‘Leadership, Culture and the Modern Workplace’, I get participants to rate a group leaders from ‘Most Effective’ to ‘Least Effective’. In the exercise the participants are initially given 8 photos of world identities. The exercise is simple. Build a leadership criteria and select the most to least effective leader of the eight identities. The faces on display include Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Hilary Clinton, Sir Alex Ferguson , Indira Gandhi and later I add a nineth identity, that being Osama Bin Laden. Of course most people’s judgment on these personalities has little experiential substance. Not many have worked directly or indirectly for any of these people, let alone met them. What is interesting is that most groups end up with Osama Bin Laden either first or last or last on their list. Those who rate him number one usually do so because they see him as a persuasive influencing figure who was able to inspire others to follow him. These people are usually judging him purely on his effectiveness. On the other hand those (the majority) who rate him last tend to make comments related to his ‘lack of values’, ‘murdering ways’ or ‘misguided use of a beautiful religion’. Suddenly, we see the judgment become values based. Perhaps the exercise that is being undertaken by the latter group is a rating system based on a ‘good’ leader as opposed to an ‘effective’ leader. And ultimately, for them, the word good demands a personal judgment on character to be made. This seems to suggest that values are important to people when they choose who they follow.

Forum Questions

Are values a connecting point with staff for managers in business or do people really not care what their managers place value on? Do managers in business need to demonstrate behaviors associated with a values set acceptable to most team members or do they simply need to demonstrate technical competence in order to inspire followers?

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