Even though efficient models of leadership have changed over the last decades, the old ways of managing still exist. Old school leadership ideas are hard to shake off, such as the command and control versions of “the boss knows best.”

In case you haven’t noticed, the world, the economy and our work lives are in a period of great transition. Sometimes it’s hard to see; other times it feels like a wind storm of change so fast it’s hard to keep balanced. Think about it.

The way we work is very different today than it was 10 years ago. It’s even different from last year. More than ever, we need solid foundations, beliefs and values to hold onto. But it’s hard when many of the assumptions we make about work are upended by rapid change.

Take leadership, for example. Here are three leadership paradigms we were most likely brought up with that no longer hold true. I’m borrowing from Warren G. Bennis and Joan Goldsmith, from their excellent book, Learning to Lead.

  1. Leaders are great men who are more qualified to lead and solve problems than you and I can ever be. Bennis calls this the “silver-spoon” theory of leadership. This paradigm says that leaders are born with the right stuff and are endowed with physical beauty, winning personalities and wealth and power. Well, that’s just no longer true. Leaders are men and women, and some are more educated, granted, but that doesn’t make them more qualified to lead. A few stellar leaders who dropped out of college come to mind: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, to name just a few.
  2. Good management makes successful organizations. This is the traditional way of managing businesses, which comes from 19th century factories and armies. Efficiency comes from the top-down, run by managers who command and control to get the job done. Employees are expected to comply, provide short-term results as measured by the bottom line. But today, such bureaucratic, autocratic leadership styles stifle employees who quick disengage and do the bare minimum required.
  3. Mistakes are to be avoided at all costs. This leadership paradigm holds that leaders never fail or make bad decisions, so they are hidden, denied, and not used as feedback for correcting actions. Instead, blame is used to discipline others, and the employees are immersed in risk aversion and fear of discovery.

The problem is no matter how much organizations claim to be flatter, more democratic, and say they value their employees and customers, leaders are prone to revert to command and control.  They may believe they offer coaching as a method of influencing performance, but many still coach with an agenda.

The bottom line will always be the bottom line and employees are expected to perform. Leadership concepts are easy to espouse, but harder to put into action. Leadership development is a slow process. New leadership paradigms are even slower to be fully adopted.

So I ask you this: What would you replace as a new leadership paradigm for each of these three “old school” concepts?