FLIGHT OF THE BUFFALO and Other Superleader Models

David M. Boje - December 7, 2000


      Flight of the Buffalo (Belasco & Stayer, 1993) explores the paradigm shift in leadership from the old command and control model (a head buffalo leads through acts of planning, organizing, initiating, and controlling) to the new intellectual capitalism one (where everyone becomes a leader). The old paradigm of command and control is also known as "Managerial Capitalism" where professional managers centrally control the corporation while pretending that they are under the authority of shareholder-owners (p. 47-48). 

    Managerialism began with Taylorism, and the transfer of power from the people doing the work and from the owners to the planning clerks that became the managerial elite.  In doing so the Managerial Elite is a form of control that reverses Weberian bureaucracy to the last Feudal enclave, the modernist corporation (p.49). In a free and democratic society, Managerialism gets people to park their brains at the door and submit to the Feudal Authority, the Head Buffalo rules the herd.  in the tradition of the master-slave concept (p. 50).

The Managerialist Model of Leadership

There are several basic assumptions.

1. In managerial capitalism the basic assumption is "I'm the boss and I'm in control of these resources to use as I see fit" (p. 50). The manager has all the property rights and owns all the systems and plans all the performances.  

2. Command and Control managerialism misimplements Henri Fayol's Principles of Administration, the functions of planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling. 

3. Managerial capitalism is also an inversion of Max Weber's approach to bureaucracy. For Weber the managerial excess of power would be tamed and caged by bureaucracy. But, under managerial capitalism, the cage is used by managers to tame the employee into a docile slave and then blame the victim. 

4. The lead Buffalo knows what needs to be done. "They have to shape up." (p. 236). 



The Flock of Geese replaces the Head Buffalo mentality. Power is no longer based upon physical/mechanistic forms, but is now based on intellectual capitalism (p. 48-50). 


Do you have as much sense as a goose? When geese fly in the "V" formation, the whole flock adds considerably more to its flying range than if each bird flew alone. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the power of the formation. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing, and another goose flies point. The back geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. Finally, when a goose gets sick and falls out, two geese fall out of formation with it until it is either able to fly or it is dead. They then launch on their own, or with another formation, to catch up with the group. 

(Nahavandi, 2000: 155), In The Art and Science of Leadership. NJ: prentice Hall). 



The Metaphors - If the lead buffalo is killed, the herd will stand—easy targets for hunters. The classic command and control leader is, metaphorically, the lead buffalo: the individual who directs all day-to-day operations of the company and expects subordinates to defer all important decisions to the top. Head Buffalo plans, organizes, commands, coordinates, and controls (p. 16, 43). 

buffalo herd photo; frame photo

    In contrast, in the new paradigm, the geese rotate leadership regularly and frequently, enabling each member to be responsible for the appropriate course and direction of the team, and allowing each to rest and recuperate from the additional work of leading the flight, as needed. The problem is how to move from a Buffalo Herd to a Flight of Buffalo/Geese worldview. The "Flight of The Buffalo" is the transformation of the leadership paradigm from Head Buffalo, to a flight of buffalos where, members of the team alternately lead and support, as situation demands. (See book review). 

    Buffalo and Fish - Superleader Theory - Manz and Sims also gave a flight of the geese model of leadership (Manz & Sims, 1993; Sims and Manz, 1995) they term "superleader."  The superleader theory calls to mind the work of Frederich Nietzsche, who advocated a superman/ superwoman model of leadership.  For Manz and Sims and Belasco and Stayer - this means making nearly everyone in the organization a leader.  Like Nietzsche, they consider the modern heroic leader to be an out-dated myth.  

    According to Sims and Manz (1995) a superleader leads others to lead themselves: "Give a man a fish and he will be fed for a day; teach a man how to fish and he will be fed for a lifetime" (p. 59). Their typology is composed of four leadership styles: strongmen, transactors, visionary heroes, and superleaders. This is similar to my own typology (Boje, 2000) of Prince, Bureaucrat, Heroes, and Supermen and Superwomen

Table One: Comparison of Theatrics, Buffalo and Superleader Models of Leadership




Belasco & Stayer


Sims & Manz

Prince - Based on Machiavelli, the politics of power is a daily corporate exercise. There are princes of peace and princes who have a dark and egotistic side. 


Strongmen - When firms perform poorly, leaders get tough,
which translates into lower rewards for employees." This is a hard-nosed boss
who laid out his expectations firmly and loudly. He is a dictator whose style is to intimidate.  The Strongman leader exhibits behaviors suggesting that she or he knows the "right" way and the follower should obey or else.
Bureaucrat - Does the consideration, initiating structure, and participative decision making that is expected in the modern corporation. Buffalo - or Managerial Capitalism, the old command, coordinate, and control model of leadership Transactors - This leader is between and Prince and a bureaucrat, the power moves are all for self glorification. Transactors use rewards, rather than retribution. Everything is incentive-based, and as a result, employees are motivated to perform well enough to collect the reward--but not to do their best.  The Transactional leader archetype has its genesis in the exchange leadership theory (e.g., House, 1971).
Hero - The hero is on quest, an adventure. The hero seeks to change and transform the organization.  The hero's journey is a search in which the leader finds they are the problem.  


Visionary Heroes - lead by inspiration, evoking an emotional commitment on
the part of followers. e.g.  Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy. They inspire and exhort, persuading with the glory of their mission and their own personal charisma. Manz calls these followers "enthusiastic sheep." The Visionary Hero leader archetype has its genesis in the transformation leadership theory (Bass, 1985).
Superman/ woman - Based on Nietzsche's work to find leaders who conquer their inner enemies and lead with authenticity. The model assues you can not empower others. Power as Mary Parker Follett says is "grown" not delegated or shared. Empowerment would consist of making decisions about the firm as a whole including policies, investments, and benefits. Lead Goose or Intellectual Capitalism - leaders who coaches and trains people to take ownership, and lead themselves in a (self-managed work) team-based, customer focused discipline. Ownership is thus not about legal rights, but a state of mind. There is a strong focus on teams and empowerment.  Also, people are given direct control and responsiblity over their own work.  Lead geese question their empowered leaders to think for themselves. The emphasis is on partnership in a network-type organization.  Superleaders - they teaches others to fish, to develop their own skills in self-reliance, initiative and self-management. There is a strong focus on self-managed work teams and empowerment. Superleaders question routines. Superleaders drive their company
from the bottom up, seeking wisdom and direction from their subordinates--and creating a feeling of ownership among them.

Each leadership approach is appropriate under specific circumstances. Yet, we favor heroes and superleaders over bureaucrats (transactors). Followers of Supermen, Superleaders, and Flight of the Buffalo are people who are coach and who learn to lead one's self. The lead goose's job is to be a mentor, clear away obstacles and champion the everyone is a self-leader model.  The difficulty is working with people who have been trained their entire life to be dependent upon a central authority. 


Synopsis - The SuperLeader archetype has its genesis in the self-managing work team research (e.g., Manz & Sims, 1984). "This leader develops followers into "selfleaders" by evoking a sense of ownership and emotional commitment to the goal" (Scully, Sims, Olian, Schnell,  & Smith, 1996).  "SuperLeadership" leaders lead others to lead themselves (Manz & Sims, 2000). The authors attempt to move beyond the traditional (strongman) autocratic model of leadership, and the transactor (bureaucratic) model of motivation people through rewards or manipulating them by initiating structure, as well as the visionary model of being an inspiring heroic leader. Sims and Manz (1995) argue that charismatic heroic figures turn followers into sheep. To them, the evolution of leadership was from:

The Strong Man - trait theory

The Transactor - search for behavioral factors

The Visionary Hero - the return to the theory of charisma

The SuperLeader - empowering self-managed work teams.

    SuperLeaders turn followers into self-leaders. The assumed advantage is that superleader teams of self-leaders will be more flexible and react quicker to changes in the market than in the command and control model of autocratic leadership.  Superleader workers must be highly-skilled. Chopra (2000) argues that superleaders work to strengthen their associates' self-esteem. 


A superleader’s brief is to spot and liberate this ‘leader’ in every employee. And, this liberation cannot happen
overnight. It is often the result of a continuous effort at developing individual capacity of every employee till they realize their optimum potential to act in a responsible manner. (Chopra, 2000).

    The authors attack "heroic" leadership a traditional myth, the leader as a pillar of strength that will lead people on a journey to progress and performance. They believe the Hero with an inspiring vision and a riveting personality discourages independent thinking, and thus inhibits superleadership. Sims and Manz (1995) and Manz (1990) have seven steps to develop Superleaders:

1) Become an effective self-leader

2) Model self-leadership

3 Encourage self-set goals

4) Use rewards and constructive feedback to develop self-leadership throughout the organization

5) Create positive thought patterns

6) Promote self-leading teams

7) Facilitate a self-leadership culture

    They are also critical of what I have called the "Prince" or "Strong Man" style of leadership, arguing that fear-based leadership smothers imitative.  It should be noted that Machiavelli (in the Prince and Discourses books) is clear that the Prince operates on more than fear (i.e. love and hate). They argue that the "strong-men" who single-handedly led organizations to great heights-is sadly out-of-step with today's corporate needs.

    The Transactor (what I call the Bureaucrat) is the Prince who seek "what's in this for me," the politician we see in some many complex organizations.  In my own version, the bureaucratic style is also someone someone the old consideration, participation, and initiating structure routines that are common to bureaucracy today. 

    Finally the superleader attempts to draw out the leader traits that are buried within everyone. The superleader adopts a mind-set that emphasizes individual empowerment and recognizes the full potential of employees. he superleader's task becomes largely is to help followers to develop the necessary skills for work, especially self-leadership, to be able to contribute more fully to the organization.  To me, there is a contradiction here: how is it that people are empowered-self-leaders and still followers disciplined by a superleader? To me this violates an understanding about power that Mary Parker Follett made clear long ago. You can not empower people, they can only grow their own power. 

    Research - Elloy (1998) and Elloy and Randolph (1997) did a study of the relationship between superleader (Manz & Sims, 1990) and more traditional situation and job characteristic models of leadership in a study of self-managed work teams in a government railway service. Ninety employees were surveys and results indicated that supervisors who are seen as using more trusting, encouraging innovative behaviors, and a re fair, and positively reinforce group members when they have performed their job well, contribute to the development of self-management leader behaviors. These self-managed behaviors consisted of rehearsal, self-goal-setting, self-criticism, self-reinforcement, self-expectation and self-observation. The groups with superleaders had better communication and made work decisions that enhanced the transition to self-management. The superleader assists members to engage in the behavior of self-goal setting within the group and may generate a heightened degree of self-expectation among group members. 

    Scully, Sims, Olian, Schnell,  & Smith, 1996 did a study of the Manz and Sims four types. The target population for this study were CEOs of technology-based companies located in a large metropolitan area. Firms were initially identified from an almanac profiling approximately 150 local "high-tech" or technology-based firms. One hundred and twenty-six of these companies were selected for survey and phone interviews.

    The findings are: "Tough Times, Tough Bosses" - CEOs "get tough" when financial performance is poor Specifically, poor financial performance was significantly related to both behaviors associated with the Strongman leader archetype (i.e., non-contingent reprimand, and instruction and command. The relationship between encouraging self-evaluation and self-criticism, and financial performance, was in the predicted direction. This relationship intimates that as times get tough, leaders may expect subordinates to become tough on themselves by encouraging, urging, or perhaps demanding that they take a long, hard look at their own performance. Only two of the ten leader behaviors associated with Transactor, Visionary Hero, and SuperLeader archetypes emerged significant; only one-performance expectation-was in the predicted direction. The authors of the study conclude, "CEOs of poorer performing firms may not allow themselves the "luxury" to engage in behaviors associated with Transactor, Visionary Hero, or SuperLeader leader archetypes."

    Case examples - Barksdale-Hall (2000) summarized the difference between situation leadership and superleadership. A situational leader adapts "leadership behaviors to features of the situation and followers (Hershey & Blanchard, 1995). The central leader fixes or solves all the problems. A superleader focuses on developing self-leadership abilities of everyone in the organization. They solve their own problems. 


    Summary - The assumption of the command and control paradigm of leadership is that leaders are responsible for planning, organizing, and coordinating other people's performance and solving their problems.  B&S claim this is a formula for failure that breeds distrustful workforce and slow change.  B&S propose an "intellectual capitalism paradigm" where leaders get people to be responsible for their own performance and solving their own problems. This model of leadership is enacted in four tasks (p. 56):

1. Transfer ownership for work to those who execute the work. The leader provides information and support and the employees take ownership for finding and implementing solutions.

2. Creating the environment for ownership of his/her own performance  by decentralizing authority and creating smaller units that are involved with specific areas they find solutions for. The leader creates incentives for performance in those areas. Create a clear picture of great performance; focus people on a few performance factors; develop the desire for each person to own it; align systems and structures to send clear message of what is needed for great performance; engage their hearts and minds and hands; energize people around the focus of the business. 

3. Coach personal competence by helping employees to see what they are now and what they can be. The leader poses hypothetical questions to help the employees find their own answers.

4. Learn quickly and continue to learn. This means adapting to change, unlike the French army who continued to fight in armor even after the English had developed armor-piercing long bows; an example of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it" thinking.

The Intellectual Capitalism Model of Leadership - There are several basic assumptions.

1. My organization reflects my leadership behavior ... I am the problem (p. 29, 40-41).

2. Safe discussions about the vision consume gobs of time and result in very little real change (p. 31). Also see problem with sending leader to mountaintop to create the vision and bring it back to the people (p. 46). 

3. Leadership reactions based upon past learning can lead to being stuck in that paradigm (e.g. The French Knights would not find a new way to fight even when the English long bow archers were killing them off).  

4. Organizations are full of "I am the victim" thinking or 'victimitis" (p. 36). "People feel powerless when they experience no control over their work. All power seems to be outside their control" (p. 36). We blame everyone else instead of asking "what am I doing or not doing that causes the situation I don't like?" (more on blame see p. 45-46).

5. .The leader's new job is to get the people to be responsible for their own performance  (p. 43). 

6. Karl Marx was right. "The owners of the tools of production determine the economic structure" (p. 47). The capitalist set up an economic system in which he wielded all the power, made the decisions, did all the planning, and alienated workers from owning their tools and their performance. 

7. The markets are turning global, the Internet enables rapid communication and response and workers are more educated than in the days of managerial capitalism.

8. The leader's job is to put the customer first; to make the customer a partner; to design systems and structures that help customers.

9. Systems and structures call the tune to which we all dance (p. 215).  And when we blame the people, we can miss how it is the systems and structures that are the root cause of our problems. "People obstacles are most often symptoms, not causes" (p. 236). Look for the symptoms of the deeper causes (See SEAM Analysis).

10. The leader can fix it. It is the leader's job to fix everything. 

In the Flight of the Buffalo model of leadership (Belasco & Stayer, 1993), there is a strong emphasis on getting people to think like their customers and to be aggressive about competitors. The competitor is the dark enemy, and fear of the enemy-competitor is for these authors a motivator. "Everyone in the company took part: clerks, secretaries, actuaries, as well as managers and salespersons. They mobilized all employees to fight the competitor, " (p. 163). Everyone in the organization is to know how that standards of performance of their jobs contribute to customer satisfaction. Reward systems are transformed from individual to team incentive models. Everything is team based, from product, customer to performance service, everyone is on some kind of team (p. 210-211, 214,237). And the teams are multidisciplinary and focused on removing obstacles to performance. INformation systems are reordered to facilitate teamwork.   At the same time, the networking model focuses on minimizing power-dependence on any one customer (p. 174). And in as section of "full-stream manufacturing" the focus is on building partnerships within the organizations, by framing internal customers and external customers (p. 194). Teams of employees meet with designers and marketers to shorten product development cycles. 

Table Two: Buffalo and Geese

Buffalo  Geese - Network
One Leader
One voice
Leader will fix it 
Leader owns work responsibility
Slow learning
Leader is head buffalo
Leader is boss
Fit for stable times
Net of Teams
Everyone a leader
Many voices
Everyone fix it
Person working owns work
Fast learning
Leaders coach
Customer is boss
Fit for changing times


How does it work? - ask the right questions

The Intellectual Capitalism model of leadership is implemented with questions that get leaders, employees, customers, and suppliers to self-reflect.  

Question: "What am I doing or not doing as a leader that makes me the head buffalo instead of the lead goose? (p. 34).

Question: "How must I be different to be an effective leaders?" (p. 41).

Question: "How must I change my leadership paradigm to utilize all the intellectual capital in my organization" (p. 52). 

Question: "What do I have to learn to lead in this new age?" (p. 57). 

Question: "Am I crating owners or dependents?" (p. 71).

Question: "How can I focus every person on giving our customers what they really want?" (p. 104).

Question: "What would I have to do this week to earn a rating from you of 10 out of 10 for perfect contribution to your great performance?" (p. 124).

Question: "What will it take to create what I really want?" (p. 141).

Question "Do our products and services stand out head and shoulders above our competition?" (p. 171). 

Question: How do the customers see us now?

Question: "Are you managing the past, the present, or the future?" (p. 234). 

Question: "How can I identify and remove those obstacles that prevent great performance?" (p. 200).

Question: "What message do my systems and structures send?" (p. 215).

Question: "What systems [and structures] are causing my people problems? (p. 240, with additions).

Question: "Do you like what you see in the mirror?" (p. 286).

Question: "Do you have any problems you are avoiding?" (p. 293).

Question: "Am I making enough mistakes and learning enough from them?" (p. 321). 

Question: "What is my anger telling me that I need to learn about myself and what I'm doing?" (p. 334). 

Question: How can I use this divorce to stimulate important learning about what it takes to be successful?" (p. 348). 

Question: "Where will you be when they make the final boarding call?" (p. 355).


Barksdale-Hall, Roland From Situational Leadership to SuperLeadership: One OMS Participant's Story. Pennsylvania State University. Web accessed December 19, 2000. 

Bass, B.M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press. 

Belasco, James A. & Stayer, Ralph C. (1993) Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to excellence, learning to let employees lead. NY: Warner Books, Inc.

Boje, D. M. (2000) "Developing PSL into a Network Organization" - Based on Flight of the Buffalo.

Boje, D. M. (2000) "Is this Critical Postmodern." This is A Radical Critique of Flight of Buffalo

Boje, D. M. (2000) "Leadership: In and Out of the Box"

Chopra, V. K. (2000) Grooming leaders. Hindustan Times On Line. August 18. Article about superleaders. 

Elloy, David F. (1998)  " The Relationships Between Superleader Behaviors and Situational and Job Characteristics Variables: An Exploratory Study." Journal of Business and Management Volume 5, Issue No. 1. 

Elloy, David F & Randolph, Alan (1997) The effect of superleader behavior on autonomous work groups in a government operated railway service Public Personnel Management; Washington; Summer. Vol 26 (2):

Hersey, Paul, and Kenneth H. Blanchard. "Situational Leadership" Chapter 32 in The Leader's Companion: Insights on Leadership Through the Ages, edited by J. Thomas Wren. New York: Free Press, 1995, p. 210.

Hersey, Paul, and Kenneth H. Blanchard (1995) "Situational Leadership" Chapter 32 in The Leader's Companion: Insights on Leadership Through the Ages, edited by J. Thomas Wren. New York: Free Press, 1995.

House, R. J. (1971). "A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness". Administrative Science Quarterly, 16: 321-339. 

Manz, C. E., (1990) How to Become a SuperLeader  Executive Excellence; Provo; June, Volume:  7 (6): 9-12. 

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Manz, C. and Sims, H.,(1980), "Self Management as a Substitute for Leadership: A Social Learning Theory Perspective," Academy of Management Review, 5 (3), pp. 361-367.

Manz, C. and Sims, H. (1984), "Searching for the 'Unleader': Organizational Member Views on Leading Self-Managed Groups," Human Relations, 37, pp. 409-424.

Manz, C. E. and Sims, H. P. Jr., 1987, "Leading Workers to Lead Themselves: The External Leadership of Self-Managed Work Teams," Administrative Science Quarterly, 32, pp. 106-128

Manz, C. C., & Sims, H. P., Jr. (1991). SuperLeadership: Beyond the myth of heroic leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 19(4), 18-35.

Manz, Charles C. and Sims, Henry P. (1993) Business Without Bosses: How Self-Managing Teams Are Building High-Performing Companies, John Wiley and Sons, New York. 

Manz, Charles C. and Sims, Henry P. (2000) The New SuperLeadership 
Leading Others to Lead Themselves. Berrett-Koehler. Update of the 1980 Superleader book by the same authors. 

Post, Charles T. (1982) Profile of Power - So You Think You're a Superleader? Chilton's Iron Age, Radnor; June 16,  Vol. 225 (17): 69-71. 

Sims, Jr., Henry P. & Peter Lorenzi (1992) The New Leadership Paradigm: Social Learning and Cognition in Organizations.  Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1992. Book review by John Tilquist

Sims, Jr., Henry P. & Charles C. Manz (1995) Company of Heroes: Unleashing the Power of Self-Leadership, Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated. See Informs (1998) review by Jack Cook.