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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Leadership 3

Last fall I was driving into Halifax, about an hour away. Often, when driving alone, I take a handful of CDs in the car and catch up on old favourites. But this time I turned on the Canadian national icon - after the beaver, and the red and white maple leaf flag – the CBC. That's the Canadian national radio Broadcasting network Corporation, for all non-Canadians. It's patterned after the model of the BBC in the United Kingdom – a government funded national radio and television link which provides a cultural connectedness across the country. Where anyone goes in Canada there are woods and rocks, Tim Horton's coffee, and the CBC.

And similar to the BBC, and NPR in the United States, the CBC isn't hampered by directives and prejudices from advertisers because there aren't any. (Advertisers, that is: we still have the other stuff.) So the programming is wide open; eclectic, musical variety, talk variety, world and local news; something for everyone including those who like to THINK.

This particular morning the interview program on had a variety of topical items including, you guessed it, perked up my ears right away – Leadership. The first interview I caught was with someone who couldn't seem to keep up with the questions and sounded very uncertain of their material. All very “sketchy” and destined for obscurity. But the next speaker caught my attention immediately and with his opening remark about leadership I almost drove off the road!

Dr. Stephen Reicher, Head of the School of Psychology at the University of St. Andrew's, Scotland (founded 1413! - the University, not psychology), began his description of leadership in the interview with an statement so obvious and fundamental that we usually overlook it: A leader must have followers.

An “AHA” moment – A Whack on the Side of the Head (Thanks, Roger von Oech). Here I am, the Results guy, and here is a Results based litmus test: Followers = Leadership happening / no Followers = no Leadership happening.

As noted in the latest Twitter “LeadershipTips”: “The only test of leadership is that somebody follows. - Robert K. Greenleaf”

It's so obvious we don't normally mention it. And worse from an evidence based approach, we focus on things like the attributes of a leader. What must a leader have to lead? How about:
  • charisma
  • courage
  • boldness
  • chemistry
  • ...
  • nice hair
  • trendy clothes
  • television presence
You can see how the attributes quest can easily spiral away into silliness.

That is not to say these characteristics aren't important, and perhaps necessary. Nevertheless, the quest to manufacture leadership in a finishing factory isn't one certain to produce useful results. Yes, I do believe still in Principle Centered Leadership (Stephen R Covey). (Do I need to change my name to Stephen also?). Covey points out the need for:
  • a Moral Compass
  • clear communications
  • empowerment
  • a total quality approach
Let's call those, and others, foundational attributes. These can be used, according to Covey, in a hierarchy of focus:
  • meta leadership – vision and stewardship
  • macro leadership – strategic goals, structure, systems and processes
  • micro leadership – relationships, emotional bank accounts with the potential followers
Nevertheless, a donkey having been through the car wash is still a donkey (Thanks, Carmen.)

Following up with Dr. Reicher, I received from him the “academic” paper* he and his associates have published in the Leadership Quarterly, and an article in Scientific American August / September 2007.

The academic paper refers to a history of determining leadership attributes:
  • Carlyle, 1840 – speaking on the “great man”
  • Mill, 1975 - “ the genius whose pleasures are of a higher order than... animalistic gratifications”
  • Nietzsche, 1977 [sic] - “‘superman’, who would let nothing... stop him satisfying his appetites”
  • Le Bon, 1895/1947 - “the hypnotic crowd leader”
  • Weber, 1921, 1947 - “charisma”; and the “inexorable advance of instrumental rationality (zweckrationalitat) and institutional routine”
“Which lead us to the three phases of research into leadership:
  • a search for the distinctive intellectual and social characteristics [not very satisfying]
  • thinking that leadership is a contingent product of both personal and situational factors [mixed support]
  • attempts to rediscover some of the ‘magic’ that is missing from recipe-like contingency models, [through] a rediscovery of Weber’s concept of charismatic leadership”
This last phase gets us close to “leadership... seen as 'the process of being perceived by others as a leader' ”

Stephen Reicher and his associates then propose in their paper that “the agency of leaders and followers does not constitute a zero-sum game. Rather, in line with a social identity approach to leadership (e.g., Haslam, 2001; van Knippenberg & Hogg, 2003a; Reicher & Hopkins, 1996a; Turner, 1991), we consider them to be interdependent in such a way that leaders and followers both actively rely on each other to create the conditions under which mutual influence is possible.”

Hmmm.
A symbiotic relationship, mutual influence, agency. Let's chew on these words until next week.

*Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: Leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. Reicher, Haslam, Hopkins (2005)

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