On my mind this week.
I sometimes think leadership has gone missing. As I’ve listened to the news and spoken with people worldwide, all facing different versions of the challenges we all face, the same issue keeps cropping up – the people and places we look to for leadership have become pale shadows of what we need.
I do not think it is because they are all deficient in some way – they are bright, committed people; otherwise, we would not have put them where they are. I think it is more that the structures we have created were designed for a different time, when centralisation, scale, and hierarchies delivered what followers needed.
That time is long gone, and scale has meant that the centre is now a very, very long way from the edge where the action happens. A leader’s first and foremost responsibility is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those she leads given the conditions they face. Being a long way from where those followers make that a huge challenge. Firstly, the privileges that go with leadership, from money to location, mean that they have very different experiences of everyday reality. Secondly, as we have made leadership a profession more than a vocation, the emotional distance between leader and follower has become more significant. Leaders and the led have little in common. Thirdly, leaders are increasingly transient and nomadic, moving from position to position rather than being attached to a cause. We have turned leaders into mercenaries.
I think we have turned business leadership into a cult. A combination of business school orthodoxy, technology, and phenomenal rewards for corporate boards has created a dogma that has little to do with leadership in its purest, human form.
Operational leadership, of the “up close and personal” kind, has always existed at the edge where new is constantly emerging out of the uncertainty of orthodoxy dissolving. At its best, strategic leadership occurs at the centre, but only where the centre and the edge share a common purpose, and similar risks, so authentic leadership is never a safe occupation.
Authentic leadership has not gone missing; it is just that it does not often exist in a job description or a business card title. Leadership is done by those who care about those they choose to lead more than themselves because what they do together matters. It is taking place all around us by people close to us who do not see themselves as leaders and would be surprised to be described as such. They are the ones who speak out firmly but quietly in support of what and who they believe in and who demonstrate in action their commitment to it. Leaders are those who take lots of small steps to keep things moving forward rather than drawing up enormous plans for approval or making extravagant promises about a future they will not be there to lead us into.
As we navigate our way through the uncertainty we face, leadership is local, and it is us.
Some dots waiting to be joined.
The Archbishop of York. Leaders are not afraid to be contentious, and in pointing out an uncomfortable truth, he does us a service. His point that the English identity seems to have been submerged underneath the more dominant identities of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Westminster will be unwelcome to many.
The power of local Leaders. NY Times. A reflection on where local leadership is found, and why it is crucial.
Open Source Intelligence. Economist. Centralised leaders have always relied on privileged access to information, but technology is changing that. This article looks at how intelligence is going open source and what that means for organisations and nations.
Why Satan should chair your meetings. Economist. A witty review of the literature of leading meetings. Funny, but painfully relevant.
The Art of Gentle Living. Monocle. Efficiency and speed are not all they are cracked up to be—a lovely short video on the beauty of slow.