Where leadership articles go wrong
Leadership. You know from your daily life as you observe the people around you, those people that demonstrate leadership — be it good or bad in your eyes. These people affect our lives across a spectrum — leadership affects how we show up to our families and how much energy we have at the end of the day, it affects the quality of our lives in our communities and country, and affects the collective experience of living in these times. Why is it then that all of the books, articles, seminars and courses that leadership is still an intangible shapeshifter of a skill? Some call leadership an art, and others view it as a science. Yet every time we think we have pinned it down and have dissected all of its pieces, it fades away to appear in another corner of the room. Newly formed and shiny.
Leadership — what is it and why is it important?
Leadership writing is often viewed through the lens of the individual. What personal development is required to lead themselves? How self-aware are they of their own strengths, weaknesses and biases, and how agile are they with regards to continuous learning? What are the skills and competencies required to be successful — such as setting goals and plans, strategic and creative thinking, the ability to manage change.
These are critical factors of personal development of an individual who will take on responsibilities within a leader role. However, leadership is a phenomenon that exists between people.
How can you know this? Take away the word “leadership” from your thoughts as you read that paragraph again. Do you notice that all of these skills are valuable personal and career capital for any individual to reflect on and develop? This development describes the personal development that none of us should be truly finished with as we evolve through our lives.
Creating leadership — who creates it and how?
Within us as individuals, and as leaders in organisations there should always be the process of:
- Personal assessment to find opportunities for development
- Learning, practice, and experience of activities that are critical to the role
- Feedback and confirmation of any changes made by the individual
A leader will fulfil the requirements of their role capably and with positive impact if the above focus is put on the individual. To lift the leader to leadership requires development of communication, relationship-building, how to create positive team environments, and being able to coaching and encourage change in others. All of these are skills that exist outside of the realm of the individual as they begin to interact and reflect themselves with others.
Creating leadership extends beyond the individual, and emerges in the relationships, connections and collectives.
What does this mean? It means that all of the above aspects of leader development are relevant and important parts of a development process for a leader. However, leadership development requires a broader consideration of the context. This is why a leader cannot be developed and planted into any organisation, any level of an organisation, or any culture. It is a natural recognisation that in our lives we live, love and learn alongside other people, and relationships and human emotions are a fundamental factor differentiating between a leader performing within a role… and leadership.
Leadership provides direction, alignment and commitment from a person, team or larger organisation. However, the beliefs that exist within that person, team or larger organisation also influence one another. A leader who values and promotes collaboration within a competitive and individualistic environment will require more than leader skills and capabilities to impact and influence change. A leader in this situation will need to transform the systems and culture — and this is far greater than the skills and capabilities of an individual.
How can I impact leadership?
It is this element of the inter-connectedness of people that leadership writing often fails to explore. Quick wins of personal and skill development are often discussed and emulated to replicate success. It is far more fascinating and insightful to explore the phenomenon of how unique humans perceive, believe and react to leadership. And how leadership development is learning and growing in understanding of our uniqueness as individuals and collectives. Therefore as a person who is curious and explorative of leadership, you can impact and challenge the leadership articles that linger in the realm of personal development or skills critical to a role as a leader. Instead you can reflect on how the writing encourages the ability to develop yourself in the interactions with others — to find ways of developing leadership for all of us.
Here are a few reflective questions for you to consider:
Next time you read an article about leadership development, take some time out to reflect what you have taken from the writing. Have you learnt about the personal traits, skills and beliefs of a successful individual, or have you gained insight into the complexities of the context and how the leadership collective were transformed?
Where can I read more?
- Developing leaders versus leadership development
- Is it leader development or leadership development coaching? — remember to look for the key moments to listen to the parts of the talk that are relevant for you