We are living in times of change, unprecedented in terms of speed and scope. With such disruption, it is reasonable to assume that people are looking for leadership, but what type of leadership?
As a writer, speaker and coach on the topic of leadership for many years, I am no longer surprised at the often contradictory advice on what it takes to be a good leader. Which is perhaps why I resonate with this quote:
“There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are people who have tried to describe the concept” (Bass, 1990)
Before we decide on a definition of leadership, perhaps we should first ask, “Why Leadership?”
As, previously mentioned, the world is getting more complex and changing fast. You’ve probably heard the term VUCA. VUCA is an acronym coined by the US army and stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.
We now live in a VUCA world where the accelerating rate of change creates volatility. Organizations and individuals are experiencing a significant increase in uncertainty, due to this volatility and often feel overwhelmed and confused by what is going on in terms of politics, the economy and the environment. This overwhelm is increased by the amount of complexity that we face in just making the most basic of decisions; and with this complexity comes the need to deal with ambiguity where any decision can be challenged according to perspective.
I was born in 1961, the year President Kennedy (JFK) took office, the year the Berlin Wall went up, and the year the Space Race started. JFK responded to the threat of Russian Space Supremacy, with ‘Visionary Leadership’. He told a story to a frightened country about putting a ‘Man on the Moon’ and bring him safely back to Earth. At the time he outlined this vision, America hadn’t put a potato into space, let alone a man! But this narrative, mobilized the scientists and engineers of NASA to solve the problems to achieve the goal.
JFK understood that leadership is not about having all the answers and famously stated:
“Leadership and learning are Indispensable to each other.”
In a VUCA world, we need to be continuously learning. But what and where to learn? Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, had an interesting view:
"I do not yet know of a man who became a leader as result of having undergone a leadership course."
So much for MBA’s! But wait – he’s got a point. Leadership frameworks are useful, but unless we practice and adjust our leadership behaviours in the real and changing world - we will likely be ineffective.
Consider a great leaders; JFK, Churchill, Gandhi, Mandela. Such leaders have character traits such as – Initiative, Courage, Intelligence, Resilience, Humour. These traits are likely to be innate, and so therefore leaders are born not made! Or so the argument goes.
The problem is that this argument is working backwards and assuming causation. It ignores, situations and environments that stimulate individuals to develop leadership. This argument also perpetuates the bias that leadership traits are those closely associated with being male. Attributes such as empathy, understanding and collaboration are largely ignored.
In addition, traits can only be inferred though behaviours (Dr. Paul Englert 2006), and behaviours are mostly learned and so leaders are definitely developed.
If we accept JFK’s premise that leadership is about learning, then we can also agree that learning is about growth.
Growth, for people, requires both challenge and support. If we are supported but not challenged, we will stay in our comfort zone. If we are challenged but not supported, we are likely to be overwhelmed and retreat.
With the appropriate amount of challenge and support leaders and followers develop autonomy (Self-leadership) with a willingness to experiment and collaborate.
These qualities are required to meet the organizational requirements of leadership”
“Leadership from an organizational perspective could be considered as a social influence in an organizational setting in order to achieve organizational goals” (Saal & Knight, 1995)
So to effectively define what is leadership, we need to consider what behaviours are required of a leader to exercise this ‘social influence’ in these exciting times.
My research and experience suggests that these include but are not exclusive to:
- Framing the culture’s Values and Vision though narratives and examples (Storytelling)
- Projecting confidence, gravitas and poise under pressure (Executive Presence)
- Seeking feedback on own strengths and areas for development (Self-Awareness), then making adjustments (Self-Leadership)
- Creating a Culture where people are safe to speak up and experiment (Trust and Empowerment)
- Considering multiple perspectives, analyse and come to a conclusion (Critical Thinking)
- Listening for frames of reference, such as values, and using these to create buy-in for proposed initiatives (Influence without Authority)
- Developing sub-ordinates through Coaching and Mentoring (Succession)
The advantage of defining leadership by behaviours is that these can be observed and measured in the workplace or in a development centre. When leaders develop and demonstrate these behaviours they create a culture where staff can in-turn develop themselves to perform. All of which leads us to the quote:
“The purpose of leadership is not to create more followers, but to create more leaders.”
Perhaps, in the past your business or your job was relatively stable, and so there was an emphasis on providing management. But now, with increasing change and disruption we definitely need leadership to innovate new ways of doing things. Do you have the required leadership behaviours?
♜ Andrew Bryant is a Global Expert on Self Leadership & Leading Cultures. He partners with international & global organizations to develop leaders and leadership cultures. www.selfleadership.com
✽ Invited to speak in 20+ countries on 4 continents with 180,000+ people inspired, he is known to be an effective, confident, humorous & thought provoking motivational & TEDx speaker. www.andrewbryant.global
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