Leaders versus Leadership

There is still a lot of the ‘Great Man’ approach to leaders around. Investment has been and still is in the personification of ‘leader’ in individuals rather than the phenomenon of leadership in organisations. But might the latter be the less ego-centric future? If you believe Garrett then leadership competence is entirely contextual anyway, so a great leader in one organisation can move to a different organisation and become ‘incompetent’ overnight (and we’ve seen plenty of that).

There is now a huge ingrained expectation that leadership in your organisation will come from somebody/some people whose job that is. And so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in which people look to an authority figure with an expectation which authority figures then feel they must meet. But most of our clients have to stop and decide who they want to include in a programme of work as ‘leaders’ because there isn’t such a thing as a pure leadership population in the first place “well we could get our top 20 to do this but maybe we want our top 100”. Actually don’t we want everyone who has people management as part of their job to do this?”

I’m not sure what this might mean for leadership development except that it might be very much more tangibly an applied issue. Leader is a role whereas leadership might be more of an organisational process which is not properly defined and attended to as it doesn’t structurally exist. So I’m imagining it could in practice be more like ‘Quality’ or ‘ Efficiency’, ‘Sustainability’ or ‘Ethics’, i.e. Not reducible to someone’s job.

I think where that has taken me as a train of thought is to wonder what would we be doing if the intention was to bring about a feeling of strong leadership as a characteristic of the organisation rather than start at the other end with individuals who are nominally leaders? If an organisation was wanting to develop certain characteristics of the experience of being in it like direction, conviction, supportiveness, challenge, responsibility, is it possible to focus on those outcomes and work back to how they would be created and sustained systemically? That would be different to starting with the premise that the organisation is the manifestation of individuals and so we need to start with individuals. You’d still end up working with individuals and teams (what else is there? Chairs and desks?) but would it be working on something slightly or significantly different? Something to ponder on…