Leadership is Grasping Context
Fast Company’s Bill Breen points to a new book, In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the 20th Century, in which co-authors and Harvard Business School profs Anthony J. Mayo and Nitin Nohria break leadership into three prototypical leadership types: the entrepreneurial leader, the leader as manager, and the charismatic leader. The interesting thing in this article/interview is how all three of these kinds of leaders excel at grasping the broader context of situations.
Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, Estee Lauder, Jack Welch — these business masters had more than their fair share of what Mayo and Nohria call “contextual intelligence.” That is, they possessed an acute sensitivity to the social, political, technological, and demographic contexts that came to define their eras. And they adapted their enterprises to best respond to those forces. Their outsized success at sensing opportunities and capitalizing on them had a dual effect: Just as the times profoundly influenced these business masters, they, in turn, profoundly influenced their times.
“We’ve always treated the historical context of a particular time as a kind of sidebar to any discussion about business leadership,” says Nohria, a coauthor of 10 books on leadership and organizational change. “But we’ve found that context is far more salient than we ever imagined.”