Zeitgeist Leadership

Harvard Business School, Boston, USA.
Harvard business review (Impact Factor: 1.27). 11/2005; 83(10):45-60, 156.
Source: PubMed


Companies and leaders don't succeed or fail in a vacuum. When it comes to longterm success, the ability to understand and adapt to changing business conditions is at least as important as any particular personality trait or competency. A clear picture of how powerful the zeitgeist can be emerges from the authors' comprehensive study of the way the business landscape in the United States evolved, decade by decade, throughout the twentieth century. Six contextual factors in particular, they found, most affected the prospects for business: the level of government intervention in business, global events, demographics, shifts in social mores, developments in technology, and the strength or weakness of the labor movement. A lack of contextual sensitivity can trip up even the most brilliant executive. No less a luminary than Alfred P. Sloan was relieved of GM's day-to-day management in the 1930s because he was unwilling to meet with the new UAW. Conversely, an understanding of the zeitgeist can play a crucial but unheralded role in business performance. Jack Welch is widely credited with GE's remarkable success during the 1980s and 1990s, for example, but far less attention has been paid to his predecessor, the statesmanlike and prudent Reginald Jones, who sustained strong revenue and profit growth during the heavily regulated stagflation of the 1970s. To better understand this connection between business performance and context, the authors studied 1,000 great U.S. business leaders of the twentieth century and identified three distinct archetypes: Entrepreneurs, often ahead of their time, overcame dire challenges to build something new. Managers excelled at reading and exploiting the existing zeitgeist to grow their businesses. Leaders defied context to identify latent potential in businesses others considered mature, stagnant, or in decline. In every decade, all three archetypes were vital. It is the ongoing regeneration of this pattern in the business life cycle that ultimately sustains development and progress.

Full-text preview

Available from:

  • MedGenMed: Medscape general medicine 02/2006; 8(1):30.
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Archetypal psychology suggests the possibility of a leadership archetype representing the unconscious preferences of human beings as a species about the appropriate relationships between leaders and followers. Mythological analysis compared God’s leadership in the Abraham myth with modern visionary, ethical and situational leadership to find similarities reflecting continuities in human thinking about leadership over as long as 3600 years. God’s leadership behavior is very modern except that God is generally more relationship oriented. The leadership archetype that emerges is of a leader that develops his/her follower by reliably maintaining a vision, behaving according to firm ethical values even when it weakens the leader’s authority, accepting suffering when the follower is unreliable, and always forgiving even when the follower behaves with hubris in an attempt to overthrow the leader. If God’s leadership principles were mandatory in management, many dysfunctional leaders would be disqualified and many of the negative consequences of poor leadership might be averted. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007
    Journal of Business Ethics 05/2007; 72(2):115-129. DOI:10.1007/s10551-006-9159-5 · 1.33 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: A long‐standing debate in organization studies has centered on the tension between paradigmatic consensus and theoretical pluralism in an academic field, but little attention has been paid to the underlying processes of field development that account for this. Using a mechanisms‐based approach, we examined the field of leadership over the last 50 years (1957–2007) focusing on: scholarly consensus on theory and methods; models and variables; and examinations of the state of the field. In spite of considerable advances in research, we find a general lack of commensuration or standards by which theories can be compared or synthesized; an emphasis on leaders’ effects on performance rather than meaning‐making or value infusion; and sparse instances of taking stock of the overall field. We conclude by proposing three research strategies for the future—theoretical compartmentalization, theoretical integration, and theoretical novelty—and advocating greater methodological variety.
    The Academy of Management Annals 06/2010; 4(1-1):359-401. DOI:10.1080/19416520.2010.495530 · 7.77 Impact Factor
Show more