I traveled to Phoenix this week for a series of meetings. I commented to a stranger in the security line that this is my favorite place to publicly undress. He laughed and agreed. I looked up and saw the sign that all liquids and gels had to be in three ounce containers and that no weapons are allowed.
This ritual and signage is an example of a contemporary social theory called Structuralism described in Contemporary Social Theory by Antony Elliott. Structuralism is the idea that people live within the social context of larger structures of society that are political, cultural, social and historical. A couple key figures in this theory are Ferdinand de Saussure and Michel Foucault. They believe that structuralism is reflected in language, signs within culture, the media, advertisement, etc… and these reflections of society help to structure our beliefs and norms.
This week as I pondered this concept, I wondered how this theory could be applied to the field of leadership. What came to mind were the leadership books I have read over the past few decades and how leadership models have evolved to reflect the changes of society.
After looking at my leadership library, one of the first leadership books I remember was In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters who interviewed many successful companies in the 1980s and described organizations who managed by objective (MBO). These were the 43 successful companies like 3M, IBM, Wal-Mart and they were interviewed based on a list of successful performance metrics.
The next set of books reflects the competitive nature of the 1980’s and 90’s when Japanese cars became more popular than American cars which spurred the quality movement (Total Quality Management and Continuous Quality Improvement). On my shelf is Quality without Tears by Crosby, Business Process Improvement by Harrington, The Fifth Discipline by Senge and Reengineering the Corporation by Hammer. These books focus on improving quality at a reduced cost.
As the world continues to become more competitive with fewer resources, the newer leadership models move towards engaging all employees towards better customer service and better business process. The leader can no longer afford to be tough minded and top down in management style. Today’s environment calls for leaders with soft people skills who facilitate and collaborate with a clear vision. Other books on my shelf are Good to Great by Collins, The Advantage by Lencioni, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Bradberry, and Strength Based Leadership by Rath are a few among many.
As the world becomes smaller with fewer resources, there are no limits as to the books that will be written to help us understand the society we live in. What are the sign post books on your shelf? What are the books that have been most helpful to you in your career? Books are a reflection of structuralism that will help us to navigate in the years ahead.