Yet another article on leadership

Adam Schorr
Rule No. 1
Published in
7 min readDec 13, 2022


Look, friend. There’s been a lot written about leadership. Like, a lot. And if you couldn’t find the wisdom you needed in any of the other books, articles, whitepapers, compendia, training courses, retreats, seminars, tweets, or podcasts, you’re almost definitely not going to find it here.

I feel for you. I really do.

When you look at the ocean of content in the world on leadership, it’s truly hard to know which of it to use as toilet paper, which to use as kindling, which to read for comic relief, and which to embrace and act on.

Seriously. It takes guts to start reading yet another article on leadership. And here you are, literally doing just that.

But you’re not alone. We’re in this together now. Because it takes, perhaps, even more guts to pick up a pen and write about leadership knowing that the likely destiny for one’s thoughts is a toilet bowl or a fireplace. (Nota bene: Please do not use this, or any other article both as toilet paper and as kindling. Regardless of which order you perform this operation you are in for a very unpleasant experience. So I’m told.)

So, one steps into this with a bit of trepidation. But let’s trust each other and jump in headfirst.

When I consider the leadership literature I’ve been blessed and cursed to have read, and my consulting work with leaders brilliant and blinkered, excellent and execrable, incredible and injurious, I come to realize there’s a very particular form of leadership required now and in the future. A leadership that builds on and repudiates the kinds of leadership we experienced yesterday and continue to experience in the backwards-leaning organizations of today.

The first era of leadership: Leader as commander

It all started pretty badly. Life was grim. You spent your time running from saber-toothed tigers and wondering where the fuck that bright shiny thing above your head disappeared to every night. Also, you didn’t even know what night was!

Relationships were largely about power, and leaders were those who amassed power and were able to tell you what to do. Or else.

This model of leadership persisted far longer than it should have. And it still exists today. It became popular in the military and in the corporate world — which was full of men who acquired their leadership skills in the military or by watching war movies like Stalag 17 or Stripes.


  • It was very clear whom to follow
  • It was often much faster as it didn’t require discussion


  • Power corrupts — and the person at the top was often sadistic and greedy
  • The leader often had outdated or insufficient information about what was occurring on the front line
  • The leader usually had forgotten how the jobs of more junior people were done
  • This type of leadership mostly gets people to follow out of fear — and fear usually prevents us from working at our best
  • Even when none of the above was true, concentrating that much power in one person — especially one that is venerated — makes it unlikely that the leader will have the right information to make a sound decision

This model is on its way out. Even the military has the doctrine of commander’s intent, which is about not blindly following what the commander said but truly understanding what the commander wants to achieve and then making it happen.

Still, both in the military and in business, there are plenty of egomaniacs who find it thrilling to boss people around. These are people usually compensating for having a small car.

The second era of leadership: Leader as visionary

At some point, a leader had one of those brilliant shower musings. What if people actually wanted to do what we told them? What if they wanted to go above and beyond? What could that look like? How could we make that…

This era of leadership would have been ushered in a lot faster had the hot water not run out.

Still, it set in motion a chain of events that rocked the foundations of leadership and changed the world forever.

Eventually, it became clear that to get the best out of people, they need to be inspired. They need to understand what future they’re working to create. They need to believe in the mission. They need to feel something powerful in their hearts.

So, leaders started building the skills of inspiration and motivation. Usage of “because I said so” dropped precipitously. People started flocking in droves to Toastmasters, and there was a one-year waiting list for Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people.

The new job of leader was to fly around to different locations and give rousing speeches. To shake hands and kiss babies.


  • It forces leaders to engage with the actual humans they mean to lead
  • It makes it more likely that information will be shared upwards and decision-making authority shared downwards
  • It motivates people to work harder and better


  • Inspiration is usually insufficient
  • Leaders felt more justified in absolving themselves of bad results once they’d given the great speech

This is the regnant model of leadership today. It’s much better than command and control but still leaves people wanting.

The third era of leadership: Leader as ????? (OMG, the suspense!!!)

Visionary leadership was a wonderful innovation, but organizations started noticing that for days after the leader showed up and gave the speech, people were wandering aimlessly around the hallways baffled by what to do with that vision. They got back to their desks and found nothing to instruct them how to make the vision come to life, nor anything that would equip them to take action.

Oh, how the speeches felt great though. People laughed, they clapped, they cheered. There were ovations. So. Many. Ovations. The standing sort. Tears were shed. Tears of joy.

But still, few people knew what the hell to go do. And those who did, found themselves stymied at every turn — by their own organization!

It turned out that the systems and mechanisms that made the company operate were designed for two inspirational visions ago. People were recognized and rewarded for the behaviors that were needed years and decades ago. The org structure was set up for the business of the past. Teams were not being given the tools nor trained for the tasks required to realize the new vision. The way the company hired and promoted people was out of date. Leaders were selected, trained, and measured for what the business used to but no longer needed. Metrics drove behavior but leaders never bothered to define new metrics and eliminate the old ones.

And so, it went. The inspirational speech was given. The people were fired up. But the company actively inhibited the behaviors that were required for the new vision to become real.

So here we are, my friends. We know the shortcomings of the leader as visionary model — even as we appreciate its improvement over command and control. And we know there’s something better out there.

So, I am humbled to announce that I’ve discovered the next era of leadership. (I credit the hot shower of course—one does not accomplish such greatness all alone.)

What’s needed next is for leaders to go beyond the inspirational speech and roll their sleeves up to do the hard work of changing the systems of the company — so they foster the newly required behaviors.

Welcome to Era 3: Leader as gardener.

The leaders of tomorrow recognize that it’s just as silly to plant a seed, walk away, and feel confident the plant will grow, as it is to simply command the plant to grow.

Plants must be gardened.
Which means they need a gardener.
The seed has to be planted in the right soil.
The climate has to be right.
The seed and young plant must be fed a healthy diet.
Someone needs to watch and adjust the conditions as needed.
There’s other shit that has to happen but I’m not a farmer, so I’m done with this analogy.

The leaders of tomorrow see their primary responsibility not as being the single source of truth that commands people to obey, and not as the visionary who fires people up and leaves them to fight city hall on their own.

The leaders of tomorrow see themselves as gardeners. They accept the obligation of engaging people all over the organization to identify the right vision, to rally people around it, and then to create the conditions in which the vision — and the people working on its behalf — can thrive.

That work is harder, no doubt, than giving great speeches.

But it’s also far more impactful.

It’s what’s required for a company to truly live its purpose, values, vision, and strategy.
It’s what enables every person to bring their best.
It’s the work required for work to be what it needs to be.
Do be do be do.

Incidentally, this is the work we do at Rule No. 1. We help leaders define what their organization is at its best and then bring that to life by redesigning the systems (i.e., culture) of their organization.

Nice work if you can get it. And you can get it if you…



Adam Schorr
Rule No. 1

Passionately in search of people who are themselves