Success at Work

About us




Can you define leadership in a way that does not entail being in charge of people? Can your definition account for leadership shown by outsiders, such as green leaders, who aren’t in charge of those who follow?

Everyone would like to lead like Martin Luther King, but few have his spellbinding oratory. Is it a hopeless fantasy? Not if you understand the essence of his leadership.

Heroic leadership is out; post-heroic is in, but are we throwing the baby out with the bath water? Managers need to learn which leadership style to use and when. Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch were heroic leaders, strong characters with firm answers.

Despite valiant efforts to separate leadership from management, they remain entangled. Many equate them. Some  ignore management or confine it to a menial maintenance role operating in the engine room "keeping things ticking over."

It has become popular to define leadership as a relationship. Employees work more closely with managers and there is a growing literature on followership. But this idea is a problem because it rules out leadership shown at a distance and bottom-up.

If leadership is an influence process then it can't be a role or type of person. Thinking through what leadership-as-influence means helps us see how all employees can show leadership regardless of the type of person they are or their role.

Rapid change, complexity and the rising importance of creative thinking are all conspiring to demand leadership from every employee. We are in a new era driven by Richard Florida's creative class and Daniel Pink's "whole new mind," where right brained innovative thinking trumps its sequential left brained counterpart.

In an age of escalating uncertainty, the idea that leadership means being in charge of a group is obsolete. Rapid change and innovation require a less static, hierarchical concept of leadership. Wherever success depends on a diversity of ideas, leadership becomes fragmented into discrete impacts, no longer an ongoing role.

The meaning of leadership is inexorably shifting from masculine to feminine, from calling the shots to engaging, coaching and nurturing employees. The risk is that real leadership will be lost in the shuffle, a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Leadership, as normally conceived, is an intra-group phenomenon: leaders occupy roles within groups, either formally or informally. Being role occupants, leaders are reference points for the resolution of group issues. From their dominant position within the group, they have authority to make decisions that affect the group’s well-being.