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Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

We Still Need Visionary Leaders

In turbulent times like the present, we need visionary leaders in government and business. These are the political leaders who will take big risks to make a better, more productive society, and the entrepreneurs who will latch on to the game-changing technologies that produce innovations like low-cost clean energy. But as Barack Obama is discovering, turbulent times make people anxious. Unsure and worried about the future, they want leaders who make them feel secure and reassure them about the future, and no one can predict the full impact of large changes.

Visionary leaders fit the personality type that Sigmund Freud called narcissistic. People of this type, he wrote, including himself, are especially suited "to take on the role of leaders and to give a fresh stimulus to cultural development or to damage the established state of affairs." Productive narcissists can be charismatic and inspiring. Like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, they can change the course of history. But in damaging the established state of affairs, there will inevitably be winners and losers, and narcissistic leaders provoke passionate followers and enemies. They seem dangerous in comparison with another of Freud's types, the cautious, careful and disciplined obsessives. These are the leaders in business and government who won't take the big risks but will improve processes and cut costs.

For some people, Obama's visionary attempt to transform the health-care system sparks hope. For others, it provokes fear and anger. But only a productive narcissist would attempt such profound change. As the economy begins to recover, businesses also need visionaries, but people have been burnt by the grandiose narcissists in Wall Street companies and the once high-flying corporations like Enron.

It is unlikely that shell-shocked large companies will put the narcissists in charge. They will stick with the productive obsessives who will never bet the firm on a product, however "insanely great." The disruptive innovations which can energize the economy are likely to come, if at all, from visionary entrepreneurs, the Rockefellers, Fords, Watsons, Jobs's, Gates's, Ellisons, Brins and Pages of tomorrow who are now seeking the capital to realize their visions. It will be these entrepreneurs supported by smart venture capitalists who become the great corporate leaders of the future.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  August 21, 2009; 6:05 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Reality check. Gates is that rarity, a founding CEO who still dominates his field and is the human avatar of his corporation. Too many critics confuse a "visionary" with an omniscent saint. Gates is an extraordinary businessman with a Vision. Yes, the vision is limited and human, but then so is Gates. He's not Lex Luthor.

Posted by: hysterium | August 21, 2009 10:12 PM
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While it is important to have visionary leadership at the top, you need to ensure that the Secretarys, Department Directors, and first line managers of organizations responsible to implement the new direction have the same leadership skills. The problem is not just in setting a new direction, but implementing it as well.

I work in local government. A board of county commissioners can say this is the way we're going, but I'm sure the implementing staff will figure out ways to tube the policy if they don't agree.

So, how do you change this attitude in the bureaucracy. Follow the military model, I'm afraid to report.

Woodrow Wilson in the 1890s argued for a professional bureaucracy. And, until the 1960s, most Americans felt that government was working for them. Today, government is seen as the problem, except the military. Why?

The military trains its personnel to understand that their role is to defend a Constitution, to accept the leadership as determined by the people, and whether they agree or not with the policy, go back to we defend the Constitution. The military also requires training and professional development in its ranks to obtain promotion. Other federal, state, and local governments do not invest in that endeavor.

If the nation wants a responsive government, it needs to focus tax dollars on training professionals, allow professionals to implement policies, and finally, quit blaming government for the ills that they have created.

Too often government is viewed as the problem, not the solution. It's interesting to me that equality in pay resides in government, not the private sector. It's interesting to me, that "socialize health care" exists in the military and it works. It costs, true, but also what exists is that the majority of users are those who tend to be family members and retirees who either have not been engaged in wellness programs or have given up on them. It's interesting to me that the military has more Ph.D.s who have degrees in International Relations than the State Department.

It's true you need visionary leaders, but you also need dedicated professionals to implement the new direction of change. That clearly is lacking in government today, not because those currently serving aren't capable, but their abilty and skill sets have been handcuffed by political and public attitudes.

Posted by: lkeeton01 | August 21, 2009 9:44 PM
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Ronald Regan was a visionary of the wrong vision. The present recession proves that without Goverment proper rules and supervisions, big banks's ceos gamble on subprime loans and loose our money. Many say he had A. disease back when he was president. Our Founding Fathers really were great visionaries and so FDR. The great one was MLK.

Posted by: ThishowIseeit | August 21, 2009 5:36 PM
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"They that govern most make least noise."
"The best government is that which governs least." --English Proverb

We think that the best USA President who has the abilities and the will would be Ms. Hillary Clinton for now and later.

Huy Tá»­, S&FR,...

Posted by: huytu-4w_ed | August 21, 2009 5:28 PM
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Our number of engineers and engineering jobs has decreased dramatically since Bill Gates and his guys have gotten low cost labor from India. He sure has harmed the US technical leadership levels because of that.

Posted by: leokasel | August 21, 2009 3:44 PM
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To all you readers who say Bill Gates is a crook, a trader, and a snake oil salesman in the midst of a snake oil convention, I have to disagree with you. Bill Gates is probably a good guy but his trader-like behavior is no different that what most large corporations are doing right now. Many large corporations are (silently) fighting to have the H1B limit increased, especially the companies that are owned and operated by people from India and China and the other third world countries operating in the United States.

Bill's only flaw is that he is doing it out in the open. He says these foolish things in front of a fanfare of media hounds. Anyone every heard of IBM, Accenture, Deloitte, TATA, ComSys, and the like - all fighting for the same H1B increase.

So the next time you want to slam old Bill with your negative bantor, please don't forget to include these other huge corporations. They too have made millions of dollars off the backs of cheap labor workers (and tax payer money).


Posted by: dvilla99 | August 21, 2009 2:48 PM
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imZandor and others pretty much took the words out of my mouth, but I will add this. In this deep Bushed Recession, there are increasing number of Americans of all races who could surely use some help from the Gates Foundation, as much as the poor and the sick of Africa. But, of course, those Americans won't get a penny from the Foundation because they are - according to the uber-capitalists like him - all less productive, overpaid, unwieldy Americans undeserving of any help. Nope, as long as some Americans can starve to death in America, they are still better off than the Africans, so far as Gates is concerned. Who knows? He just may be nurturing the next pool of cheap labor from Africa to be exploited by his Microsoft empire, through his foundation.

Posted by: TalkingHead1 | August 21, 2009 1:34 PM
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Bill Gates is hardly a visionary - either in his business or philanthropic ventures.

In terms of philanthropy - The Gates Foundation is terribly myopic. Instead of treating the ROOT CAUSE of the world's ills, namely HUMAN OVERPOPULATION, Gates insists on treating the symptoms - AIDS, hunger/famine, Malaria, etc.

If he rolled up his sleeves and started addressing the cause of it all - Humans breeding like rats - he might actually make a dent in the problem.

All he is doing now is ineffective lip service - which only serves to further overpopulation and is therefore self-defeating.

Posted by: jsmith021961 | August 21, 2009 12:35 PM
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I can't believe there's a picture of Bill Gates next to the word "visionary." If he were visionary, the operating system his company makes wouldn't have more holes than Swiss cheese. Every day we read about another security breach or "emergency patch" of Windows. Gates is a ruthlessly efficient businessman-turned-philanthropist, but he is not a visionary.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | August 21, 2009 11:28 AM
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Truly visionary would be to include- MAINSTREAM - leaders in the creative communities of the arts and spirituality...
timeless concerns that link us all as human beings. Or what, we just want to define ourselves by dollars and technology?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | August 21, 2009 11:09 AM
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Bill Gates has a vision all right. His vision is to bring in as many H1B Visas as he wants. Bill Gates vision is to replace 99% of Microsoft's American work force with H1B visas who work for less money, no insurance and they don't know about American labor laws.

Bill Gates has a vision all right...DUMP AMERICAN WORKERS, THAT'S HIS VISION!!!!

Now don't anyone think that Bill Gates cares one little bit about America or American workers because...HE DOES NOT CARE ABOUT AMERICAN WORKERS...UNLESS THEY WORK CHEAPER THEN THE H1B VISA WORKERS HE CAN HIRE FOR PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR.

Personally I don't care for Bill Gates vision for America.

I think America should hold Bill Gates and Microsoft accountable more. Bush let them off the Anti-trust lawsuit and interfered with justice enforcement. Bush betrayed the American worker and the American people when he interfered with the justice department AFTER they won. Bush forced the justice department to close the lawsuit after they won so once again we find that the Bush Administration betrayed the American people!!!!

Posted by: imZandor | August 21, 2009 10:28 AM
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Bill Gates is NO visionary. Microsoft is predator of small companies and kept many employees as temps for years. He's just a guy who figured out how to get rich and put alot of money into a foundation he can control.

He's all about PR. Instead of running off to Africa, he ought to come to Buffalo's East side, so far this year over 30 people shot dead and many more wounded. All with no jobs!

He set up "centers of excellence" in Russia and China so he can make more money. An American visionary would have helped many more Americans and helped many more of the countless thousands who were "contract" employees for Microsoft (that way they didn't have to pay benefits, etc).

He is typical of many of this country's leadership today.... Money, PR, money, PR, money, PR.

Posted by: diarmud387 | August 21, 2009 9:02 AM
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Bill Gates? Really? Bill Gates is good at negotiating a deal, taking technology developed by others and leveraging it, marketing and maintaining a monopoly. That's it. Oh, and putting out software that creates jobs for tens of thousands by being so full of security holes. Visionary, though, he's not.

Posted by: gbooksdc | August 21, 2009 8:36 AM
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