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Leadership: Do Our Leaders Really Know What It Is?

Leadership: Do Our Leaders Really Know What It Is?

You would think most people recognise the difference between management and leadership. After all they are two entirely separate things. Yet I find myself questioning whether they do. Even worse, I wonder if it is our organisational leaders themselves who are most guilty of confusing the two.

This line of thinking was precipitated by reading the results of the Borderless “2016 Survey on Leadership Development.” As I did I found myself substituting “leadership” for “liberty” in Madame Roland’s lament for liberty en-route to the guillotine; “Oh Liberty! What crimes are committed in your name?” And the link is perhaps not as far-fetched as it may seem.

The paramount quality of a leader is that they care. While their initial motivation may be for a particular purpose or objective, leaders are distinguished by the way they:-

  • Inspire other people to pursue the same purpose; and
  • Include, acknowledge and appreciate those people

This goes beyond merely involving them, or even recognising them as being essential to making that purpose a reality. It entails giving them the autonomy and tools and skills they need to perform. That is empowerment. And true empowerment is the manifestation of genuine care.

Now, if genuine care is the paramount quality of leadership, it logically follows that empowerment is the embodiment of leadership. Furthermore, if, as just indicated, autonomy, mastery and purpose equate with empowerment and – as commonly agreed – they are the intrinsic drivers of employee engagement, then it is also logical that leadership drives employee engagement. Thus the fact that only around 30% of the workforce is engaged is already evidence of the fact that organisational leaders don’t care and hence of the lack of organisational leadership.

I would posit that this lack of leadership is the direct result of the over-emphasis of performance measures which is itself the consequence of the focus on management rather than leadership. And management regulates while leadership liberates. This survey underscores this. You just have to look at the nature of the challenges identified in the key findings to see this.

  • Being able to adapt to changes and having enough leaders to do so.
  • Leadership development is the main driver of business results.
  • Managing change and innovation; ensuring personal accountability, and breaking down silo thinking.
  • Lack of leadership development investment.
  • Poor and ineffective leadership development.
  • Unawareness of any kind of leadership coaching or mentoring program.
  • Top management support as a critical success factor in effective leadership development.

When you take into account that 35% of survey respondents were in corporate strategy, general management and HR and that 68% were in organisations larger than 1,000 people, and you remember this is a survey about leadership development, you cannot help reaching the same conclusion and thinking this is a sad indictment of their own lack of leadership. Actually, the identification of the need for top management support alone implies this, while implicitly corroborating my definition of leaders as people who care.    

All of which reinforces what I said previously about the need for love at work. If leaders are people who care, they will inevitably generate loyal followers who also care. And this is more than just a nice to have. In today’s rapidly changing world it is an imperative, as the survey results clearly show. Organisational leaders are too far removed from the day-to-day operations to be able to make the quick decisions necessary to respond to change. In fact they are too far removed to even identify the changes as they happen. In such a workplace even strategy can quickly become inappropriate or outdated. This make leadership vital at every level.

Consequently true leadership isn’t about antiquated ideas of traditional leadership or leadership development, but about ensuring that you create a culture and environment in which everyone cares: in which everyone is a leader. That is why every individual matters and why my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model provides the catalyst that will help you create an environment where everyone cares – where the business becomes our business.  

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