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Monday, January 26, 2009

Leadership 4

Continuing from last week with Dr. Reicher and associates's work (all text in quotes is from their paper*):
“There is a truth here which is so obvious that it is easy to overlook. Leadership is not simply a matter of leaders, or even of leaders and followers. Rather it has to do with the relationship between leaders and followers within a social group (Haslam, 2001; van Knippenberg & Hogg, 2003b; Sherif, 1962, p.17).”

This matches our experience from BootCamp / ResultsCamp. The experience of the team prior to Fiona's proposal (Leadership Article 1) was to build that social group. What preceded the team's capacity to really listen to her proposal and then act on it was the work each had done developing connection. That was accomplished through the mechanics of generating a shared vision – shared between the group members and guiding their actions and interactions.

And further:
“... any consideration of leader and follower agency must consider their inter-relationship within the group. This notion of leadership as a group process is the starting point for the social identity approach to leadership...”

Again, we regularly see in ResultsCamp the capability within the group for various leaders to emerge at any point based on the best idea proposed at that point.

Dr. Reicher's paper continues to develop three important elements:
  • the group (and the leader) share attributes or an identity which makes them a group, and this binds group members including the leader
  • in fact, a leader can provide the definition and shape the group.
  • leaders distinguish themselves not only by words but also by structures that fulfill the vision and the words
And then states:
“The critical insight is that leadership is a transformational process. It involves changes in the self-understanding of people and also in the nature of the social world. Indeed, one of the insights to come out of our analysis is that these two forms of change are interdependent since identities are models of how the world is and of how it should be.”

“Effective leadership is about supplying a vision, creating social power and directing that power so as to realize that vision.”

So here is this critical notion of vision again. Is this expressed as our mission, that is to say, what we are intending to do? Or is it possibly our goal, our objectives, our targets?

The ResultsCamp vision is the picture of what we want the world and ourselves to look like in the future. Because the ResultsCamp team members determine first of all their own personal visions – what they want their future life to be – they can then determine a team vision and see readily how they as individuals can support that vision and each other to realize that vision.

Given all this what do we now have?
  • team members with their own personal visions
  • a team vision each individual has helped develop and can support with their own personal futures
  • a cohesive group – a social identity – using tested and proven interpersonal tools to share information, make decisions, resolve conflict, etc. (the Core Protocols)
  • a transformational process – participation in the ResultsCamp – which is creating the team, determining its identity, developing these individual and team visions
and possibly most interesting
  • the opportunity for any individual at any point in time take leadership of the group by means of the team's acceptance of that individual's idea for moving the team forward - that leadership possibly being momentary or lasting as long as it takes for the team to achieve their vision

However, there is still the “unreal” world after ResultsCamp and the following warning from Dr. Reicher:
“Of course, to argue that leadership need not diminish the agency of followers (and may in fact enable it) is not to deny that there are forms of leadership which do attempt to do so. Far from encouraging an open debate about who we are and how we should act, some leaders may indeed try to essentialize their constructions, to present them as the only possible versions of who we are and to brook no debate. The extreme to which we referred above, where the leader constructs him- or herself as the embodiment of the ingroup, leads to a situation where anything the leader says or does by definition encapsulates the group identity and anyone who opposes the leader by definition becomes an opponent of the group. Where, on top of that, a sense of pervasive threat is created such that the ingroup appears to be in danger of destruction by imagined enemies, then extreme measures to quell dissent can be justified in the interests of self-defense.

Such strategies, of course, are commonly found in undemocratic and dictatorial regimes (Reicher & Hopkins, 2003; see also Koonz, 2003, Overy, 2004). Our concern is that if one presupposes that leadership takes away the agency of followers then one fails to address the conditions under which tyrannical leadership thrives (Haslam & Reicher, 2005). This lessens our ability to promote open and democratic leadership and to defend against autocracy. In this way, the danger is not that the traditional opposition between leaders and followers is valid in theory but rather that — partly through a faulty theoretical analysis — it may become true in practice.”

So this warning brings us back to the dangers of leaders posturing as representing groups that they do not, not allowing the group to bring forward their best ideas, to the extreme of outright opposition between the leader and the group.

While I agree that tyrants and despots exist, and analysis needs to include this possibility, I conclude this week with a modification of the definition of leader: one who has willing followers.

*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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