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Leadership Thinking 1935

A look back to Ordway Tead's 1930s view of leadership.


Ian H Smith

This is a first blog post in my Management History Series, reviewing words of wisdom from my collection of old business books, and trying to map what was said way back in relation to hot business or organisational topics of today.

Ordway Tead, 1935

In 1935, Ordway Tead published The Art of Leadership: one of many books written by this pioneer in Leadership Thinking, going back to 1918. In business today, we have so many people writing about the future: let's balance this by looking back at what was being said and written 70-100 years ago, by the first generation of people engaged in Leadership Thinking.

I see three things that leaders need to fix today - let's see what Ordway Tead said about these three topics 80+ years ago:

  1. Silo Mindset: today we have too many dis-connects between organisations and inside organisations. What was the Leadership Thinking here in 1935?
  2. Meetings, Meetings, Meetings: the reason why productivity is too low - especially in UK - is we have too many meetings. What was Tead's opinion in 1935? 
  3. Mentoring Matters: we now freely talk about 'mentoring' but do it very rarely in business. Again, what was Tead's thoughts on this subject in 1935?

#1. Silo Mindset

In my own recent business experience, I have been driven mad by the behaviours and culture within the UK public sector: National Health Service (NHS) and local government in particular. In trying to get the NHS hospitals and adult social care departments to come together to collaborate around a digital platform for health and social care integration the Silo Mindset comes to the fore!

"As departments and functions become more elaborated and more cut up, this danger of a solely specialized interest increases correspondingly. ... Only competent leaders can correct the tendencies which functionalism and division of labor create. ... Look, moreover, at the many organisations which branch out from small departments. ... In every such instance leadership at the top is not enough, any more than authority at the top is not enough. ... Both have to be divided and stepped down until every last member is effectively tied into the who operation. Army organization has long recognised this truth." 

Do you recognise that 80+ years on from this statement being written, we still have this Silo Mindset plaguing large organisations everywhere? Where's the business school education to teach the Art of Leadership now? And how can leadership counter the Silo Mindset?

#2. Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

I am currently working on a new venture: creating a Task Management app that helps to eliminate the number one cause of lower productivity among managers and knowledge workers today: meetings. Or, more accurately, meetings, meetings, meetings. This goes by the strapline: 'Meetings, the alternative to work'.

"A cautionary word should be spoken about the length of conference (meeting) sessions. Generally they tend to last too long. ... Every group tends to include those who want to talk too much as well as those who are so shy that they do not talk at all."

#3. Mentoring Matters

In another blog post entitled Mentoring Matters, I talk about five compelling reasons that leaders should introduce mentoring everywhere in the organisation. The idea here is everyone can be a leader and a follower, in the context of their own expertise - not as a hierarchical view.

Whilst Ordway Tead did not use the term 'mentor' or 'mentoring' in The Art of Leadership he said:


"... in sports the coach is expected to help the player to self-knowledge and improvement by watching him in action. ... Indeed, leadership training definitely requires that wise personal counsel be constantly available. A study of as much psychology as possible is more essential to the leader today than ever before because the practical lessons to be learned are clear and definite. ... At this crucial point good leading depends upon good followers. It depends upon people gradually being able to know wherein lies their own highest good, and upon their being moved to follow it. The process is eternally interdependent."

Where is the leader as mentor today? Where are leaders and followers - and vice versa, relative to a particular, skills or experience? If we can all become interdependent leaders and followers, surely, we can all become mentors and mentorees. Again, this is Leadership Thinking from the 1930s, but 80+ years later, which organisations are actively following this approach? The sad answer is: very few - but there is a way forward: you can read about it in Mentoring Matters.


Hopefully, you will start to see that much wisdom related to 'management thinking' is timeless and deserves better coverage, in relation to authors and books from a long time ago. Just as we revere the writings of economists from Adam Smith (1723-1790) and beyond, let's give due thought to the business writers and commentators of the past 100 years or more.

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