Leadership is a popular topic. Peruse any business section of Chapters or Amazon and you will discover our hunger to understand leadership and becomes better leaders. Discussions about leadership are everywhere; everyone has an opinion about what leaders should do to move the group, organization or country, out of confusion to the promised land. This underscores our collective belief that leadership is required and needed to create a better future.
Walk into any room and ask people to define leadership and you will get a number of diverse definitions that reflect the mental models/beliefs of those answering the questions. You will quickly notice that some of the notions stated are quite opposed and that each person defends and justifies themselves quite readily.
Let the discussion go on for a while, and someone will state that leadership is not necessarily embedded in the person occupying the mandated authority role; suggesting that leadership can be assumed by anyone. This is usually countered then by someone stating that we need someone in charge.
Many blogs and articles call leaders to take the mantle and lead their troops into battle. In fact, there is no lack of suggested approaches to leaders to adopt; seven habits, leadership competencies, leadership development programs; there is no shortage of material or approaches to develop the leaders of tomorrow it seems.
In essence, we are looking for a superman or superwoman; and in some ways, we have become quite obsessed with leadership. This quest to find or create the perfect leader becomes a problem unto itself and inadvertently communicates a message that disempowers everyone but the leader. It is our ability to find the «right» leader that becomes most important. Somehow we have come to believe that qualifying leadership and defining the qualities related to that qualifier will help us get leadership right; transformational leadership, situational leadership, shared leadership, etc... yet we continue to be disappointed in our leaders. Rather than spend more time in the quest of the «right» qualifier and the competencies required to develop leadership, we may perhaps need to reframe how we understand leadership and move away from the focus on the individual «leader».
We are faced today with complex issues full of uncertainty, requiring new ways of thinking and finding solutions that address a number of interconnected issues; beyond the capacity of simply one individual. We can no longer plan without taking into account the impact of our decisions as well as the sustainability of our actions.
Should we focus on economic benefits or should we focus on saving our environment; somehow we all know that the answer lies in doing both. Creating connections and bringing multiple perspectives into the room is no longer a luxury but has now become a necessity.
What happens if we change our understanding and view leadership as a relational practice; a practice where the responsibility of creating a better future falls on everyone; using their talents and gifts for the benefit of all. What happens if we move away from the focus on the person in authority and invite everyone to assume responsibility? Relational leadership in this context is not suggesting that we need to take an individual and develop new qualities and generate a new list of competencies to be taught, but rather it focuses on synergistic and collaborative practices that develop between members of a community or organization. We do not need to ignore those in positions of authority; for that is the role they carry, they are managers and directors of our organizations, communities and groups. Being is authority is not synonymous with leadership. We need to pay attention to what happens between people and not just what emanates from those in authority.
Leadership is the capacity to move members of any organization to realize its mission. What contributes to make this happen? If we start to focus on what occurs when people gather, what motivates and mobilizes the energy of the group, new patterns begin to emerge
In relational leadership, there are a number of implicit assumptions; people care about their communities and organizations; they are motivated and open to learning new ways of thinking and doing things. The capacity to change depends on the capacity to cooperate and collaborate. Given these assumptions, mobilization and motivation stop becoming the primary responsibility of the person in authority. It becomes a responsibility assumed by all members of the organization. The role of the «leader» shifts away from being the motivator, the visionary, and being responsible for all of the problems that the community or organization faces; rather it becomes the act of convening and allowing for open and frank dialogue about the intent and purpose of the organization or community.
Whether it be in our communities, our organizations and our world; what creates change, what creates momentum and what creates new possibilities there is an increasing awareness and a body of literature that point to new ways of looking at how we behave in our communities and organizations. Yes those in authority play a key role; however leadership occurs and is being exercised beyond the “leader”. By shifting our focus on those in authority to what occurs between members of an organization or community, we can begin to appreciate that leadership is a relational reality. Seeing leadership in this way opens new ways of understanding and framing leadership.
In my next blog, I would like to explore the notion of relational leadership more in depth and suggest some ways of framing it that will help the reader appreciate a new way of exploring leadership.
Raphael Amato, Associate MCO Business Group Inc.