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Scott Adams has become a legend for drawing managers-and then quartering them. So it shouldn't be surprising that the cartoonist who created the phenom known as Dilbert has a healthy distrust of top-level managers, from CEOs to city mayors, who proclaim themselves great leaders. Adams' current book is Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel (HarperBusiness), a collection of comics and essays about the weasels slinking about at work, and he's considering writing his next book about leadership.
Why do you think leadership isn't all it's cracked up to be?
Scott Adams: Leadership is essentially a fortuneteller's scam. A fortuneteller makes a bunch of guesses, and when by chance one of them turns out to be correct, she hopes you'll forget the other ones. And that actually works. People remember selectively. The CEO of any major corporation is playing the same scam. First, you blame the last guy for anything that's bad, then you shuffle everything around, roll out a new program and wait. And sooner or later--unless your company's going right in the crapper and there was nothing you could have done about it anyway--you'll have an uptick in the industry. And people are going to remember you were the guy there when the company's stock went up. That's when you claim credit and move on to the next job. Everyone knows it's a scam, yet it still works.
If leaders don't matter much, why are we always looking so hard to find them?
Adams: It might just be something built into our DNA. It might be some evolutionary need to follow the leader. If you look at every human endeavor, there's a leader, so you've got to think it has nothing to do with the situation, but the human need to put somebody above everybody else. So maybe there's a survival benefit. I don't know.
If an entrepreneur doesn't feel he or she is a natural-born leader, is this good news?
Adams: I would make a distinction between entrepreneurs and leaders, with a given that it's not a clean break. Leadership is manipulating people, because you're trying to get people to do something they don't want to do, and there may not be anything in it for them. An entrepreneur adds something vital to the process, maybe even the most important component of the process. And the entrepreneur might inspire other people to do their best, because if [employees] see the entrepreneur is doing something great, there could be potential for all of them to make money. That's a lot different than inheriting a 100-year-old Fortune 500 company.
Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist in Loveland, Ohio.