Follow the Leader
It’s a childhood game that many of us have played. It is transferable to any culture, age and language: Follow the leader. The premise is relatively simple. The first person, the one designated the leader makes a movement, that movement is then replicated by the next person to the best of their ability, the next person looks at that example and attempts to replicate, and so on. Once the end of the line has been reached, there is usually laughter and disbelief at how the example from the leader has gotten so distorted. However, anyone who didn’t complete an accurate replication of the leaders actions was eliminated from the line.
My admission: my inherent skepticism regarding this reading is based on the idea that though shelves are filled with leadership books (including my own) most of those volumes have more to do with the function of leadership. The idea is, leaders act, direct, move, improve, motivate, change, accomplish and do. Top leaders keep everyone in the line. If anyone falls out of line, they can be eliminated.
My inclination: there is more to leadership than what is accomplished, communicated and strategized.
Having taken samples from each section of The Impact of Leadership: Performance and Meaning, I am more convinced than ever for the need to place a greater emphasis on the inner character of leadership, over the outworking of the organization.
At the outset, the editors of the book, Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, confess the ambiguity and lack of clarity when they say that leadership “is an elusive construct, riddled with so much ambiguity that it is hard to even define let alone study systematically.” (p.5) The concluding section on The Development of Leaders also paints a bleak picture of the current state of leadership when Bruce J. Avolio asks, “…how will we develop the best leadership required to promote a sustainable world? Hopefully, not in the way we are currently developing leaders in most organizations, which is typically accidental, by luck and by happenstance.” (p.740) In some way then, this is a necessary compilation as it provides many angles of perspective from which to look at leadership.
Here then are my highlights:
- J. Richard Hackman’s article entitled, What is This Thing Called Leadership?, discussed the importance culture creation by noting the example of a Russian orchestra conductor (p.114). While Hackman’s conclusions are about the conditions provided by the conductor’s leadership, it is the characteristics that he identifies as integral to shaping those results (listening and preparing).
- Walter A. Friedman’s article, Leadership and History, starts with some sobering confession that historical leadership is viewed as those who are “managers of people, coordinators of resources, and, most important, initiators of change.” (p.291). His brief glimpse into history do come with a glimmer of hope as he extends the possibility that there needs to be renewed efforts in distancing ourselves from old models of leadership and implementing new ones (p.301).
- Michael Useem’s article, Decision Making as Leadership Foundation, provides a strong case for the function of leadership. Useem uses excellent examples from current business practice to underscore the importance of well informed, timely and purposeful decision making (p.512-514). There is no disagreement with the fact that these outcomes are important for business and organizational success, however he also notes the role that preparation and listening to others plays in reaching those goals.
- Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s article, Leadership in a Globalizing World, comes closest to my own interests. She seems to give an accurate description of the effects of cultures colliding within country borders and across them. Leadership, sociologically speaking, that fails to recognize the shifting contexts for decision-making will be lacking (p.569). Those contexts, can be represented in the diversity of target markets, but a greater emphasis must be placed within the decision making circles of the organization (p.577). In her final section on the Identity Work required for leadership, the author refers to several character attributes that will be beneficial for a globalized leader: consideration of other perspectives, holding your ego, cross-cultural awareness, listening and adaptability (p.599-601).
“Perhaps effective leaders have always possessed these qualities. But now they must exercise them with many more variables in mind, with resources they can’t control, with attention to the hearts and minds of other people who might have different assumptions or interests, and with the utmost of diplomacy.” (p.606)
There is in admission consistent throughout this volume that there has been and exists now a lack of a substantive and clear definition of leadership. Perhaps that lack of clarity exists because of a lack of a foundation for leadership. There now exists an opportunity for new discoveries and new emphases for leaders and for leadership development. The increased rate of change, albeit from cultural diversity, socio economic diversity or technological options calls for a new way to prepare leaders. My thoughts are, let’s highlight character, let’s develop character, lets put the greater weight on character and lesser weight on function. The call for leading through character will bring questions, but may address the foundational starting point that appears to be lacking or dismissed throughout leadership history.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.