Caudillismo and Leadership

Have you ever felt the need of wanting someone that could just show up and solve a problem for you? Like Superman, Steve Jobs, Obama, o El Zorro? A heroe that seems that can make a difference just because of being him/her? Sometimes we can develop those kind of expectations of CEOs or of those in charge of innovation inside a company as we eagerly expect changes and results. Who is going to magically come up with the bright idea for success?

“Caudillismo” was a social and political phenomenon in the XIX Century in Latin America, where different charismatic leaders (caudillos) gained power by popular means. The basic causes of “caudillismo” back then were the lack of political consensus, lack of social equality and the need of a regional or nationalistic identity. The caudillos gained massive sympathy, sometimes with demagogy, and symbolized regional progress. They often had military allies who helped them break down the political structure, call for new elections and (of course) winning them. Some Latin American leaders considered by historians as caudillos are Antonio López de Santa Anna (México), Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (Colombia), Juan Manuel Rosas (Argentina), José Gapar Rodríguez (Paraguay), Agustín Gamarra (Perú). In Spain, Francisco Franco is considered a caudillo.

Before wishing for that emblematic innovation messiah, we should think twice. Let’s see why:

· Caudillos gain their power by discrediting past governments, laws and institutions. Innovation leaders by nature tend to have a creative-revolutionary-drive inside them, and they feel comfortable with change, but sometimes radical rupture is not needed. Following a previous strategy for a longer period, even if it was previously conceived, might be the best decision. Watch out for those innovation leaders that think their job success is to do things differently, to change things just for the sake of changing. Success comes from results.

· One problem is that caudillos tend to mix national (or group) interests with their own personal interests. Those in charge of innovation inside a company must keep an objective mind towards the company’s benefits and not their own professional interest. I can't say I haven't been tempted to push a project I personally like or that is good for my own portfolio, but we should always be sure to venture into a project because of the right reasons for the company.

· Caudillos dislike “competition” and tend to be authoritarian, egocentric or narcissistic. Innovation leaders must integrate, not divide, and be open to other’s ideas, not only his own. They also must be able to give credits to those who deserve it, not keeping success for his own image.

· Caudillos use demagogy. Watch out for innovation bluffers and evaluate results not just ideas.

· The end of a “caudillo” can have uncontrollable or unpredictable reactions (for good or bad), like the Bogotazo, a violent reaction towards Jorge Elécer Gaitán murder in Colombia. Apple´s stocks dropped down when Steve Jobs announced his retire for medical reasons (not that he is a caudillo, but he is a strong leader and icon).

What were the historical results of “caudillismo”? In some cases it ended with strong dictatorships, repressions and economical and political stagnation. In other cases they did founded the bases for democracies and republics in Latin America. Also, after a caudillo doesn't meet the expectations, there often comes another caudillo.

In conclusion, have strong creative innovation leaders, but be aware that it is group effort and shared knowledge, tools and performance what makes a company strong.

No good leader must be indispensable, but it is indispensable to have good leaders.

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