This might sound like a daft question but please indulge me. Throughout history we have looked to strong men and women to stand up and take the initiative on our behalf. Collectively, we are happy to wait for someone brave (or foolish) enough to step up. When they do, we breathe a sigh of relief and put our ‘followers’ hat on. The only caveat is that our leaders have to win respect. If they fail we depose them (often brutally) and wait for another brave soul to stand up.
we haven’t even decided whether leaders are born or made.
Wise people have studied what leaders do and written millions of words about how to become one. Despite their considered opinions and research there is still no clear consensus about what makes a great leader; we haven’t even decided whether leaders are born or made.
I think part of the problem in trying to define what makes a great leader is that we are evolving and what we look for in our leaders is changing and has changed.
Our current mindset is shaped by the scientific approach of the industrial revolution.
Our current mindset is shaped by the scientific approach of the industrial revolution. We look at world around us as though it were a machine. Many feel that by understanding the component parts they can use science to replicate and produce more of what we want and with greater efficiency.
This applies to leadership training too. It goes something like this. Let’s identify some great leaders and observe what they do that their not so great counterparts don’t do. These differences must explain their greatness! All we have to do then is design some assessment techniques and training programmes to create great leaders.
If we want leaders to take their place in the great machine of life then this approach works well enough. We can easily train people to be effective in most workplaces and environments, but what if the workplace is changing? What if we wake up and realise we can do things for ourselves?
what if the workplace is changing?
We are so used to the idea that we need hierarchy (or leaders and followers) to get things done that we find it hard to conceive of any other way to organise ourselves. Yet there are companies all over the world who operate very successfully without traditional leadership. They have no need for people to motivate, inspire, create a vision or do any of the other things that great leaders are supposed to do. These things all happen, but not because someone stands up and takes responsibility for them. They happen because people are inspired by the impact their organisation makes on the world and because they are valued and trusted by their peers to get their job done. In short, they work because they want to rather than because they have to.
they work because they want to rather than because they have to.
The companies that operate like this,and I will point you towards some examples at the end of this blog, are very successful. They are successful because they serve a genuine need, because they enable people to devote significantly more energy to their work than elsewhere and because they are able to respond quickly to a complex and changing world. They leave their traditional counterparts so far behind that it is inevitable that many organisations will operate like this in the future.
leadership will gravitate to those who have presence and wisdom
Leaders, as we understand them with our current mindset, will not be needed in this new world, although the old world will be around for a while yet. It is difficult to predict but I think leadership will gravitate to those who have presence and wisdom (which is not always the case at the moment). We will not need them to lead us but we will ask for their guidance and coaching to help us make sense of the changing world. Their role will not be to drive the organisation forward but to ‘hold the space’ so that we can do that for ourselves.
Their role will not be to drive the organisation forward but to ‘hold the space’
By ‘holding the space’ I mean things like being able to facilitate open and authentic relationships between people, keeping the organisation true to its values and being sensitive to when change is required.
As I write this it dawns on me that I am describing something similar to the Shaman or Medicine Man from an ancient tribe. The difference being that there is no Chief to defer to. If my hunches are correct we will still need ‘leaders’ in fifty years’ time, but their role will be very different.
I would love to know what you think