What is Leadership?

If nothing in the world ever changed then there would be very little need for leaders but driving change is what humans do, and as the number of decisions required increases, so too does the need for good leadership.

The pace of change is increasing exponentially as the population increases and more ideas are connected to more people through the internet.  With this change comes increased threats as well as decreasing resources further increasing the need for really good leadership in all aspects of our lives.

Leadership by Ladders !

On this site I attempt to take the biggest of problems and break them up into achievable steps.  This approach has been particularly effective in developing leadership.  The starting point, as always is to deconstruct the simplest case of leadership.

During a change or a new development, there are decisions which have to be taken that are not obvious.  For each of these decisions leadership will emerge.  Let’s begin by considering the simplest case of three children deciding on the background colour for a poster for which there is no precedent or instruction.  They are told that the options are red or blue.

Autocratic leadership or Dictatorship

An autocratic leader or Dictator could emerge who makes the decision to colour in the poster blue without reference to the other two students and then just starts colouring in!  The other two members have to decide if they wish to…

  1. follow this leader (helping to colour in),
  2. revolt (start colouring in a different colour quicker!),
  3. complain (is there a higher power available?),
  4. leave the group or
  5. plot a revolution (one gaining the support of the other ).

There is a high chance that the group could fail the task or be inefficient (two colour background or a workers strike!).  Equally, the group could be praised for having been so decisive and starting early (if the others happen to agree, are laissez faire  or don’t want to cause delay).  Did the dictator show good leadership?  You could argue this strategy would only be successful if the other two were capable of active ‘Laissez Faire Leadership’.  If successful then the better leaders are probably the other two.  The risk of mistake and conflict is too high for us to support this form of leadership although there will be times that leaders need to act rapidly such as in an emergency, even in these situations you would hope that a good leader would be prepared to stand aside if another with greater skill was available.

Shared leadership

A simplistic model of shared leadership would involve students in the above example, taking a vote and then acting on the majority.  The first aspect of leadership, however, is social influence.  There may be reasons why a red background is much more suitable in terms of where the poster is to be hung, what the theme of the poster is, what other colours are planned to be used etc.  The leader needs to look beyond the task in hand, see this future and work backwards.  In effect, they need to chart a direction.  They then present this to the others, hear their debate and then it would be appropriate to take a vote.  In this context, the leader is the person who sees the reason for the task in hand and gives a compelling argument for a decision as part of the bigger picture.

Leadership at level 1

From the example above we can define emerging leadership qualities as.

The ability to make a decision based on planning or predicting a few steps in advance and sharing this reasoning with others in such a way that another person would agree.

This incorporates the idea that leadership is tied to decision making, that it is about planning a direction based on prediction or plans and it is about bringing others along with you.  This would work even when the group is full of potential leaders or has non because it does not state that the planning has to be in advance of what others are saying nor does it require the whole group to agree.  This works when thinking in a large group, in a small group or on your own providing you have shared the reasoning with others.

For peer assessment it would require you to ask why a decision had been taken and look for the person who originated the idea of looking forwards and predicting.

For opportunities: It would be any task that required decision making, planning, creativity or role play in which the outcome required the work of two or more people.

Leadership at level 2

To develop leadership further we need to retain the idea that leadership is around direction but keep our guard up to avoid arrogance and dictatorship being mistaken for good leadership.  Tasks which have an outcome that can be evaluated by the whole team and in which the central role of the leader can be recognised for example.  The task I most commonly set for this is the design and playing of a game.  The leader initiates and attempts to predict how the game will play out.  It requires them to direct others but the assessment is taken from the views of the players.  Were their ideas listened to by the leader, did they change the game rules for the better as a result of comments from others?

In a classroom situation you could set up a situation requiring discussion and ask the leader to feed back.  The team could comment anonymously how well the leader represented their views.


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