Is There An Increasing Need For Leadership, Or Is It Just Hype? 5 pointers for potential leaders

Of all the things that have changed over the last few centuries, and particularly the massive amount of change experienced during the last 100 years, the one constant that remains is the need for good leadership.

Whether it be for leading nations, organisations, teams or even relationships, effective leadership is sought by all.

Traditionally, the view of leadership was that there were leaders and followers – each with his or her assigned or expected role. This is probably still true today. However, there is a growing body of authors and researchers who suggest there might be a broader definition of leadership. Many would suggest for example, that within organisations, we are now at a time when all employees will have to take turns at leading, where they see the need to influence others in order to achieve their goals (“Leadership – Do We Know What It Is? 4 Pointers To Start You On The Road To Becoming A Leader” http://www.leader-values.com/content/detail.asp?ContentDetailID=1101).

Even in the wider community, the leadership of groups is not the old fashioned “follow me” type. Noted author Charles Handy (“The Leader Of The Future” 1996) first described this new type of leadership as “distributed leadership”.

Handy inadvertently got a look at what distributed leadership might look like when giving a presentation in the UK, Handy facetiously compared an English team to a rowing crew.

“Eight people going backward as fast as they can, without speaking to each other, steered by the one person who can’t row.”

An oarsman in the audience corrected him; “How do you think” he said, “that we could go backward so fast, without communicating, if we were not completely confident in each other’s competence, committed to the same goal, and determined to do our best to reach it? It’s the perfect description for a team”.

Handy had to agree that he was right, but then asked: “Who is the leader of this team?”

“Well”, he said, “that depends. In the race, on the job, it is the little person at the back of the boat, the one who can’t row, who is in charge. He, or often she, is the task leader. But there is also the stroke, who sets the pace and standard we all must follow. Off the river, however the leader is the captain of the boat. He or she is responsible for choosing the crew, for our discipline, and for the mood and motivation of the group, but on the river, the captain is just another member of the crew. Finally, there is the coach, who is responsible for our training and development. There is no doubt who is the leader when the coach is around. We don’t have any one leader,” he concluded, “nor do we give anyone that title. The role shifts around, depending on the stage we are at.”

– What stage is your organisation, your team, your relationship at?

– What stage are you at?

In my work as a consultant with many different and diverse organisations, groups, teams and cultures, I see three constant leadership issues emerging around this need for distributed leadership.

1. Traditionally, organisations have tendered to evoke compliance not commitment. In the past this made it reasonably easy for formal leaders. For instance, when I first started work and my manager told me to do something, I did it without question. Now, when a manager asks, often the response is “Why?”. With the need today to have committed staff, what can leaders do to evoke commitment? Can you answer the “Why?” question in a way that gains commitment from your stakeholders?

2. Secondly, my research indicates that people join organisations because of the anticipated excitement of the role. Once they are satisfied with the role, they tend to stay because they share the same values as others that they work with. What can leaders do to firstly identify what these shared values are, and secondly, have people adopt a consistent set of organisational values? It has been shown that the combination of shared values and effective leadership practices, is directly related to improved organisational performance (Dianne Barton, Aug 2004). Do you know what values your stakeholders share?

3. Do people working within organisations want or care whether they have a good leader? The answer is a resounding “Yes”. My research clearly indicates that whilst people join because of the role, stay because of the shared values, they leave because of poor leadership.

So, if you have the formal responsibility of leading a group or team, or you are a member who must take the leadership role from time to time, where does that leave you?

Here are some suggestions that I have found useful, whether you are in a formal leadership role or you just need to influence others …

• Develop a strong personal purpose or vision and regularly talk about this with your colleagues, friends, partners. Why are you doing what you do? What do you see as the future? Remember the 80/20 rule. Effective leaders tend to spend 80% of their time talking about the future and only 20% talking about the past. My own personal vision relates to helping others to learn through development activities such as this article. I describe my vision as; “Learning is about seeing things from a different perspective. My role is to help people improve their vision”

• Be sincere. Always do what you say you are going to do and if for some reason you can’t, say so and why.

• Be prepared to admit your mistakes publicly. This is probably one of the hardest things to do, but does deliver to you the true badge of “integrity”

• Look to include as many people as you can in what you are doing. When people are often or continually “left out of things” they start to get suspicious or worse still, invent motives for what you might be doing. Keep in mind one of the key attributes of one of the greatest leaders of our time, Nelson Mandela, inclusiveness – he was extremely good at including everyone so that they all felt part of what was happening.

• Finally, communicate, communicate, communicate! Tell people what and why you are doing things. Above all, respond to others’ communication quickly, e.g. immediately respond to emails even if it is a one line type response such as “get back to you …” This way people know that they are being included in your thinking and decision making processes

If you have some things that you have found useful as a leader, I’d be pleased to hear about them – I’m always looking for new examples of effective distributed leadership. Please contact me via The National Learning Institute.

Copyright (c) 2006 The National Learning Institute