I have found this discussion really fascinating. The variety of views of
leadership that has been revealed is perhaps a reflection of the fact that
leadership is a very complex issue.
I doubt if there is a single universal 'right' type of leadership. That is
why people who attend leadership workshops sometimes find them unhelpful.
I think that the appropriate leadership behaviour will vary according to
In a short term crisis - if the office is on fire, for example - a
forceful John Wayne style of command and control leadership is really
needed. Valuing the individual's job satisfaction and personal fulfillment
is not of first importance in this situation.
At the other extreme I believe it is quite useless to try to use command
and control as a way of leading major long term change in a large complex
organisation that needs to mobilise employee and supplier effort in order
to delight the customer.
But a key feature of any succesful leadership is an understanding of
sytems - Deming's 'appreciation for a system'. Throughout history
suucessful leaders have understood the role that a sense of cpommon
purpose, for example, plays in mobilising people's efforts. That was what
Nelson's "England expects every man to do his duty" message on the eve of
the Battle of Trafalgar was all about. (I am sure there are similar quotes
from George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Napoleon etc. but when at school I
did not learn much history other than from an English perspective).
Leaders need to learn how to influence whole systems and to do so when, as
nowadays, the environment in which the system operates is not only
continually changing, but where the rate of that change is always speeding
up. No wonder so many leaders are afraid of moving away from the 'tried
and tested' methods of command and control - leadership nowadays is very
I have identified 5 five key features (so far - there must be others) of
effective system leadership. These are:
Looking at things by starting with the system.
Not with the parts.
Serving ALL the stakeholders.
Not just shareholders, but also employees, customers, suppliers, the
community and the environment.
Managing in a 'Fast Flowing'scenario.
Understanding how to channel people's efforts productively and to the
common purpose in a fast flowing world. - See Meg Wheatley's 'Leadership
and the New Science' and Robert Jacob's 'Real Time Strategic Change'.
Seeking to influence instead of control.
Non systemic leaders think
they can CONTROL the system but this is not possible - as anyone
who has been at the bottom of a large organisation will know.
Organisations with this type of leadership only survive because
people down the line largely ignore instructions from the top and
use their knoweldge of their local situation to take their own
decisions about how best to operate. But leaders are uniquely
placed to have a big INFLUENCE, if they work with the system.
Values based leadership.
Instead of being 'hard and ruthless', the leader sees their role as being
the servant of the employees seeking to build trust, and help people
develop. See Peter Block's 'Stewardship and James O'Donnell's 'Leading
I would be really interested to hear others thoughts on this.
Martin Raff VISTA Consulting - for a better future firstname.lastname@example.org phone and fax: +44-1789 840418
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