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Designer Is a Leadership Role

Imagine that your organization is an ocean liner, and that you are "the leader." What is your role? I have asked this question of groups of managers many times. The most common answer, not surprisingly, is the captain. Others say, "The navigator, setting the direction." Still others say, "The helmsman, actually controlling the direction," or, "the engineer down there stoking the fire, providing energy," or, "the social director, making sure everybody's enrolled, involved, and communicating." While these are legitimate leadership roles, there is another that, in many ways, eclipses them all in importance. Yet, rarely does anyone think of it.

The neglected leadership role is the designer of the ship. No one has a more sweeping influence than the designer. What good does it do for the captain to say, "Turn starboard 30 degrees," when the designer has built a rudder that will turn only to port, or that takes 6 hours to turn to starboard? It's fruitless to be the leader in an organization that is poorly designed. Isn't it interesting that so few managers think of the ship's designer when they think of the leader's role?

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