Intelligence is a relative thing. However has anyone improved on Socrates' "I know one thing, that I know nothing!"?
Juval Harari in Sapiens comes close with his version of the Socratic theme. "In the objective world there are rivers, trees and lions. In our imagined world there are gods, nations and organisations."
The 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution – capitalised to emphasise its grandness) is upon us and before we are smothered by the new religion of data, robots and electrons in general, let's see if we can blow the lid on the ridiculous manager/leader debate.
Erudite academics and authors wax lyrical about the 'differences'. Basically a manager is now seen as some sort of Bronze Age automaton, with an iron heart and a one dimensional brain. The leader on the other hand is some sort of special gift from the heavens who loves and connects with people (and probably trees, cats and polar bears), is honest, inspiring, is nice to everyone and adheres to some sort of mythical but hidden set of golden values, that somehow are just waiting to be explored.
In the world of Harari the manager resides in the uncomfortable real world of rivers, trees and lions and the leader in the imagined world of gods, nations and organisations. And herein may lie the roots of our metaphysical perversion. Perhaps we have evolved a desire to live in our imaginary worlds where we have warmth, comfort and even power and control, whereas the real world is 'nasty, brutish and short.'?
Thus there may be an unconscious and evolutionary drive to separate ourselves from the reality or being subjugated to the whims and authority on a daily basis of a less than competent, less than decent, narcissistic manager who is making our lives less than pleasant. (For further detail read Professor James Sutton's book The No Asshole Rule.) And in place of this unpleasantness in our lives we imagine a mythical and god-like leader, perhaps with a wise and beatific smile and a magic wand to rescue us from the harsh realities of the real world.
My solution – focus on the role and not the rose
Our world really is evolving rapidly. We live on a small rock in a dark alleyway of a galaxy with at least one hundred billion stars, in a universe with at least one hundred billion galaxies and we have no idea if there is any other conscious life out there. We also know that the human race is growing like a locust plague consuming all in sight. Scientists estimate that currently we are consuming the equivalent of three earths' resources every year, yet we continue to remain, ostrich-like, arguing about the absurdity of managers versus leaders.
The twenty-first century may be our last chance to preserve both our specie and the planet. This will require a radically different and new type of system management and a totally new breed of game changing leader.
The key will be in defining the role correctly, just as it is today in organisations. Roles can be complex and multi-faceted and success depends on many factors in both the objective and imaginary worlds. Romeo once famously declared '…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet'. Who really cares whether we call this person a manager or a leader?
Just as long as we don't blow the place apart, confirming Fermi's paradox.