Leadership is a toxic word for many.
While for others it seems like the holy grail. The missing ingredient in failure. The magic that leads to success. A thing worth obsessing about and building a multi billion pound industry, and healthy livelihoods in.
What is Leadership?
Leadership has no widely agreed definition. It is a word that is used to describe and explain a wide range of phenomena in:
- politics, culture, work and leisure from the global to local,
- organisations of all sorts,
- networks, communities, associations and ‘social movements’
Leadership is found in just about every aspect of human endeavour. But only because we look for it. Or its magical explanatory powers.
It comes in a bewildering choice of varieties:
- I could go on, probably for ever
But perhaps, like Phlogiston, it doesn’t really exist?
Doers Leadership even Exist?
After all it is a word that allows us to label something that we can’t actually describe. A bit like love. And for me, leadership is an expression of togetherness and love. And no matter how hard we try our expression is imperfect. But we can reflect. Learn, change and get better.
Leadership, like love, is a gift that has to be given and received. Neither are straightforward. Plenty can go wrong. It probably will. But this is part of the process. It allows it to deepen and mature.
For me, leadership is a collective process that creates a future that is different to the present. Good leadership creates more sustainability and fairness. Not so good leadership leads to an insecure future and grave inequalities. It is heart-breaking that in our current narrative Leadership is too often judged in much narrower terms, and in fact inequality and environmental harm are things that can be created as long as the price is right.
Leadership and Leaders
We have a generation of gifted leaders working hard, being heroic, making great progress. Providing us with GOLD command. But it would seem we also have a generation of evil and malevolent leaders spreading division and oppression, shirking and profiteering.
See what I did there?
I shifted from LEADERSHIP – that social process that we are all engaged in to some extent, to LEADERS. The anointed few, with special powers of high office, high skill, high imagination or high finance who we can choose to love or loathe. This lets us escape from thinking about our role in this. It supplies us with heroes and villains and allows us to play the victim. The age old drama triangle plays out and nothing changes.
We must resist the temptation to act as if Leadership is a special set of behaviours that Leaders, those other people, do.
Leadership is not power. It is not authority. It is not what ‘the bosses’ do. It is the ultimate inclusive process. We are ALL more or less complicit in it. It is a social process that we all contribute to. Sometimes through our silence and compliance.
Human civilisation is fragile, brutal, powerful and hate filled. It is also beautiful and loving. In my home city of Leeds, in spite of a strong economy, inequalities have worsened. Life expectancies have stalled or are going backwards. Even before Covid hit. And if look at the global level thinks look even worse.
Has it all gone wrong?
Leadership has not been getting most of us to a better future. Even those that have made a lot of money from it aren’t any happier. And aren’t living any longer. And even if they were living longer and more happily, while the rest get left way behind, how long could that be sustained? Socially? Environmentally?
So perhaps we still have a lot to learn about the thing that we label ‘leadership’.
Where do I start?
We can start with a more committed, generous, imaginative and thorough attempt to describe what we think we are putting the label on, and what we think that thing is for. And a reaffirmation that we intend this thing called ‘leadership’ to take all of us to a more secure and fairer future.
And a recognition that we all have a part to play. Gifts to contribute and gifts to receive.
Are you ready to start your leadership journey?