We believe everyone is a leader and, together, we can co-create a better future. However, we recognise that not everyone agrees with us. Your belief in who is a leader depends on your definition.
If you define the leader in the traditional way as being someone in a senior position then clearly not everyone is a leader. Certainly not everyone has the capability, motivation or desire to work at a senior level in an organisation. Nor is there space. As people develop their careers and work their way up the hierarchy there are fewer and fewer top jobs. So from this perspective clearly not everyone can be a leader.
If you define the leader as being the person with the authority then again not everyone can be a leader. However, it depends on how you define authority. In the traditional sense it means the person with the positional power. However, people can also have authority with their knowledge, skills, expertise, relationships and ideas. This wider definition of authority opens up space for more people to be leaders.
If you define the leader as the person who naturally takes charge then we’re getting into the old debate around leaders being born rather than bred. From this perspective leaders are often seen as those people who are extravert, charismatic, and have strong personal power. However, in his book ‘Good to Great’ Jim Collins presented his research that found that people with the opposite characteristics tended to be the most successful business leaders. Since then there has been a lot of research into charismatic leaders and at best their performance can be described as volatile. It appears that they are just as likely to lead people in the wrong direction as they are to take them the right way. At worst, a lot of the research has identified that charismatic leaders can become destructive to their organisation if they also have tendencies towards being narcissistic and having a desire for personal power.
If you define the leader as being the person who is using their influence for a worthwhile cause, then we are all can be leaders. From this perspective leadership is about using our strengths to serve others and have a positive impact on the world. This definition of leadership creates the space for different to come forward and take the lead when their capabilities can make a positive difference. As a consequence, leadership becomes distributed across a group and emergences from different individuals depending task being engaged.
Distributed and emergent leadership is becoming increasingly important in today’s workplaces as the issues being faced by leaders are too complex for one brain to solve. As a consequence, a prime role of leaders today is to hold the space necessary for other people co-create the future. The leaders need to be able foster the physical, social and psychological space that enables other people to bring forward their own leadership.
There is one last definition we need to explore, which is called collective leadership. For example, you may be concerned about the amount plastic in our oceans. Yet, you still may find yourself in the supermarket picking up fruit wrapped in plastic and putting in your basket. At that point you are providing leadership to the whole of the supply chain that has worked together to put that plastic wrapped fruit in your hand. You may argue that you are just the end consumer of the supply chain and not the leader. On the contrary, it is the collective decisions we make as consumers that provides leadership for the organisations that serve us.
This is why we believe everyone is a leader and, together, we can create a better future.
Now you've read our view, we'd like to hear yours. We invite you to join the Create Seven Facebook Group to share your views and engage in the conversation with other leaders.
29th September 2017