Excellent observations by Horace Dediu, I totally agree, for I learned much the same through my own painful experiences of struggling with organizations, power, service, the true nature of leadership in the last ten years, where we were “always under pressure to become divisional, to become politicized”, from within and without, just as he explains.
Balance in the end is one person – this is what I learned.
Emperor or President or CEO, whatever you may call him, he is the tip of the scale, the fundament keeping the balance – and this exactly is the reason why it is questionable if one can replace an “enlightened leader”, even from within the organization, for it takes enormuos dedication and wisdom, both at the same time, and the wise tend not to dedicate themselves while the very dedicated tend not to be very wise just yet … hmm … this one may call the Leadership Dilemma, and it is the very same thing Plato wrote about in the State, and the ancient Chinese advised about through I Ching, amazing how there is nothing new under the Sun.
As for the “how do you keep people inside the organization motivated, for twenty years, to stay in the same job” question, my experience is that it is the Vision that is motivating on the long term, the One Goal everybody desires to reach, as presented (“sold”) by the “Enlightened Leader”, that they all trust and believe in, thus it holds the organization together for it can never be fully reached, it is always just in front of us, always a step ahead, with other words: we have to be moving towards it, constantly fighting, trying, iterating, and this moving towards it is what results in Balance, just as with a bycicle, you have to move, and this very thing, the process of moving, the desire to accomplish the Goal is also the source of constant innovation, for that is what real movement is, thus the Vision driven functional organization is constantly striving to perfect the solution it serves humanity with, let it be Apple devices, Ford motorcars, Edison lightbulbs, pax romana of the Roman Empire, the salvation of all people for the Church or the American way of life or any other product or service for the Greater Good.
However, this in my observation also means that they all start to decline at the peak of their success, if and when they reach their Goal, when it becomes commodity, if there is no new target, no new Vision set – or – they get disrupted, when somebody else’s Vision is simply better and stronger, because more up to date with the current needs of the World, the typical case where the disruptor will prevail.
Intestingly one can feel this in advance, the winds of change, like in the case of the mobile-phone sphere prior to the iPhone, observers agree they felt something is coming, or like in the case of TV today, something has to happen, a strong feeling of necessity, that is also reflecting in the incumbent organizations: “Show me your CEO, I tell you how long your company lives.” – for the best signal is always the Leader, pessimistic or overly enthusiastic is the same, out of Balance, out of Power, out of Vision, or out of Faith in the Vision. One can feel this. If a man has doubts, if he is insecure that can be felt. Unconsciously and instantly. And because of this the whole organization will become insecure, thus slow down, hesitate, become defensive, set up Praetorians, while all is seemingly ok, still going strong, even investing, acquiring, diversifying, but in truth just floating around, direction lost thus focus lost, until the past impetus dies away and they eventually sink, larger ones slower but surely they all do, except if they get lucky to employ or purchase a man of real, that is contemporary Vision, like it happened with Apple, “buying back” Steve Jobs along with Next.
This is how and why in my experience all organization is in the end depending on one single person (and his companion in life), however irrational or scary that may seem, who is irreplacable as such, and when he does leave the whole organization changes, accordingly, adapting to the new leader, who must have a Vision of his own, no copy-paste, but real Vision, that the whole organization will follow, if authentic, if contemporary, 3 or 30 000 or 300 million people, size does not eventually matter.