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Monday, October 19, 2009

Leadership 11

A comment from last week's blog “Leadership 10” from Pixie Stevenson, www.enigmawellness.com:
“Are you saying you wish the paradigm of formal leadership would change to authentic leadership?

What I meant in my last comment is that leadership is also a part of the organic, evolutionary, and every expanding process of life.

Have there been cycles in leadership? Is the current formal leadership a relic from the past that is now suffering the labor pains and transition of birth into authentic leadership? Are you midwifing a new era of leaders?”
Pixie; thanks again for your comment – let's continue the discussion. :)
“Are you saying you wish the paradigm of formal leadership would change to authentic leadership?”
I believe we need both, and realistically it is unlikely that those in formal leadership positions would simply fade away. Nor should they. What I am advocating is that formal leaders recognize, and take advantage of, is the phenomenon of emergent and spontaneous leadership. That can occur
  • by recognizing their own passion and responsibility that might be part of their formal assignment – why they are in their current leadership assignment – or might be in addition to their formal assignment, and / or
  • by relinquishing their presumed need or task of maintaining control and being charge and letting someone else's passion and responsibility for action take over
The key is to allow both to operate as required to get the job done; i.e. move toward the shared vision.
“Have there been cycles in leadership? Is the current formal leadership a relic from the past that is now suffering the labor pains and transition of birth into authentic leadership? Are you midwifing a new era of leaders?”
I'm not qualified to speak to historical cycles; however, others have written, for example, about forms of “tribal” behaviour, and self organizing systems where leadership occurs outside of our commonly held model of organizational strata. The message here again is that while a hierarchical structure continually evolves to determine the “pecking order” - the formal leader being the one currently most dominant – that structure co-exists with spontaneous leadership emerging from any member. And the hierarchical structure is also fluid over time as the dominance of any individual ascends and wanes.

It may be that our current dependence upon the formal leader model is a carry over from the World Wars. To mobilize and direct armies, materials production, and countries, formal leaders were needed to provide clarity of purpose, consistency of message, a rallying point for focused effort. We sought out those who would carry us forward up the hill, or over the cliff, in a very directive, black and white, manner.

Similarly today, we look for those who offer to lead us out of the quagmire of difficult, unsolved problems. That makes it easier for us: follow the strong formal leader and sidestep our responsibility. If their solution works, we win by tagging along, and if not then push them aside and look for the next hopeful candidate.

So, in my view, today's focus and dependence upon the formal leader is a carry over from the recent past. Or more precisely, we have experienced success and comfort with that model and so continue to endorse it. And because we gravitate to the simple answer, the short version of the story, the sound-bite, we ignore the authentic leadership that was happening simultaneously through that history. The formal leaders – Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin – were the rallying points, but they engaged others who emerged according to their passions and desire to exercise their responsibilities.

It seems to me that both models were operational then, and continue to be today. The challenge for us is the mind shift from an exclusive “either / or” perspective to an “inclusive” perspective where both models are necessary and co-exist. And instead of the “hero worship” of the formal leader as saviour, we recognize that the norm, the natural or default model has been, and should continue to be, authentic leadership through passion and responsibility.

But, darn it! - that requires work and engagement on our part. We can't just simply leave leadership to others to do it for us. We can't just hide in our cubbyholes, and daily routines.

We have to think, expend energy, act.

We have to determine our passion and take responsibility.

2 comments:

Pixie Stevenson said...

Stimulating dialog, eh?

Luke said...

Have you mentioned servant leadership in this series yet? That's a concept that interests me.

Listening to others is a fundamental part of authentic leadership IMHO.