Vision of Leaders has to be Actualized by Middle Management for Organizational Success

Visionary Leaders and the Legacy they Leave Behind

Leadership development is a process that encompasses all levels of the organizational hierarchy and ranges from identifying potential leaders, nurturing and mentoring them, and picking those among this pool to succeed the retiring leaders. Business leaders in the 21st century need to have vision and mission as well as a sense of purpose if they are to achieve success in the uber-competitive marketplace. For this, they need to inspire all the employees at all levels to share their vision and their sense of purpose. However, in many organizations, it has been found that the leaders have vision that does not percolate down the organizational hierarchy with the result that the organization fails in its endeavors. In other words, it is not enough for the leaders of organizations to articulate the vision if it not met with a corresponding effort from employees at all levels. This is particularly the case with those organizations that had legendary and iconic leaders who often handled the organization and steered it through with a single-minded devotion and vision. Indeed, as the examples of Apple, Microsoft, and Infosys show, as long as the leaders inspire the employees with words and deeds, things go smoothly. However, once they fail to inspire the middle management because of various factors like organizational inertia, bureaucracy, and the very real fact that as organizations mature, the middle management no longer sees a need to follow the leader blindly as the business model by now is in place.

The Critical Role of the Middle Management

The reason why this article focuses on the middle management as the executors of the leaders’ vision is that the middle management forms the layer between the senior leadership and the rank and file employees. Therefore, they are also known as the “Sandwich Layer” wherein they take the message of the leaders and pass it on to the next rungs. In other words, they form the interface between the top and the bottom of the organizational hierarchy. As the examples of the organizations cited in the previous paragraph show, often charismatic and visionary leaders inspire the middle management to a certain extent after which the middle management feels that they can do the job themselves without need for further inspiration. Moreover, as organizations mature, the organizational arteries get clogged meaning that the flow of energy and ideas ebbs and bureaucracy sets in. All the three companies Microsoft, Apple, and Infosys benefited immensely from visionary leadership and now, except for Apple, they are looking a bit lost as the leaders and their vision no longer carries the organizational sandwich layer with them.

Succession Planning and Organizational Inertia

The key point to be noted here is that the inspirational leaders must start preparing for transition years before they actually retire and as can be seen in the way the TATA group managed the succession from Ratan Tata to Cyrus Mistry, organizations benefit when the retiring visionaries pass on their vision to the next generation. On the contrary, both Apple and Infosys are finding it hard to reconcile to the transition process. Whereas in the case of Apple, it is a question of how the company can sustain the momentum that was put in place by the late legendary Steve Jobs, in the case of Infosys, it is more to do with lack of a proper succession plan that would have reckoned with the retirement of its founders. Apart from this, the fact that when organizations reach a critical mass, they run on autopilot meaning that the middle management and the others in the senior leadership team know what is to be done without any guidance as the organization has by now become person independent is also a factor to be considered. However, running on autopilot is ok as long as the external environment is stable. Once economic gloom and intense competition accelerates, there is a need for re-envisioning of the vision and the sense of mission.

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