Business Continuity without Leaders

Is business continuity or an organisation without a leader even thinkable? Given all the business literature devoted to leadership, the idea might seem bizarre. Whether we’re talking about authoritarian, inspirational, relational, visionary or any other kind of leader, we generally expect to see a “big boss” at the top of the organisational tree. Business continuity would appear to be a similar case. Somebody needs to drive the thinking, planning and management to ensure that an enterprise does not suffer business interruption. So would it surprise you to know that organisations with high performance and continuity can – in fact, sometimes should – run without leaders?

Examples of completely leaderless organisations that work well and run without breakdown can be found in a variety of different professional sectors. Morning Star is one example: this $700 million enterprise processes tomato products, has no bosses and authorises employees to spend company money and negotiate responsibilities and compensation between themselves. The company is also both private and profitable. Another example is the Orpheus orchestra that has even trademarked its leaderless mode of operation as the Orpheus Process™.

We may be some way away from leaderless organisations becoming the norm. Old habits die hard, for one thing. However, it is in the interests of business continuity that every enterprise and organisation learns how to function without its leaders, at least for part of every business year. Teams that come to depend too much on their leaders lose their will to innovate and decide. They get directionally flabby. If the leader is then unexpectedly absent, whether because of illness or moving out of the leader’s position, the team is lost. On the other hand, by making the leader to take several weeks of vacation every year, the team is then obliged to function by itself, which toughens it against any unforeseen absence of its leader afterwards. Thus, being at least temporarily leaderless can be an excellent way of reinforcing business continuity.

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