For my May column in Computer, I wrote about the problems of leadership that Drucker raises here. (You can find it on computer.org/theknownworld or in the IEEE electronic library, if you have access to the later.) I have received more email about it than any of my recent columns, though largely for reasons that were independent of the subject of the column. You have to go back to the one called “Force of Nature”, which I did almost three years ago. It, too, was about leadership and was largely misinterpreted. It dealt with the fact that we don’t do much to prepare technical people for leadership but most of the correspondents wrote me to say that they identified with one or more of the characters in the column.
This last May, I took issue with Akio Toyoda, who gave sad performance as a CEO in a time of difficulty for his company Toyota Motors. His biggest was the fact that he was unable to control his emotions, however his speech was also badly written. If it had been delivered by a more confident individual, it might have worked, but it was not. Though it was probably written by a PR firm, it was filled with basic mischaracterizations of good management and good control in a crisis.
The point in the speech that I attacked was the idea that a good corporation was built on the backs of good people. I argued, as Drucker does, that a good organization can get good work from mediocre people and that only a poor company requires top people to function effectively.
“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it,” writes Drucker in this chapter. “It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” Such was my impression of Toyoda’s performance. Either he was a mediocre leader or he was being guided by people who had a mediocre understanding of industrial organization.”