Leadership: an act of your will
Times are turbulent, the market and the world uncertain, the rise and fall of business confidence chases the erratic example set by the stock market and exchange rates. Unemployment and oil prices continue to rise. We are in choppy waters. Change is afoot. We all know it, we can all feel it. ‘Business as usual’ will not feel or look the same in the future as it used to. There will be a new ‘business as usual’.
We are in the process of a change, from what we know well, to something new and unknown; it’s a change in the paradigm we live in. The time of transition always feels unstable, chaotic, because that’s exactly what it is. We know the old and we keep getting dragged back into it because it is what we know. We don’t know what the new looks like because it’s not here yet. Perhaps we fear it. We can just guess at what it will be, and we can have a feel for what we might need to be able to manage in it. It must have felt a little similar in the transition period between when Galileo first announced the earth was not the centre of the universe until the day it became the accepted public paradigm. It didn’t happen over night.
The paradigm shift is from seeing things in their separate parts to a more systemic approach. This isn’t new. The idea of thinking holistically or systems thinking has been around now since the 60s and 70s and a systems approach to thinking about all sorts of areas of human endeavour has been growing since this time; leadership, organisational development, ecology, research technologies, health, etc. This is now becoming mainstream thinking and no longer a ‘new age’ or ‘hippy dippy’ thing. The thinking behind the paradigm shift has certainly begun; however the way we behave has been slower to respond. This is simply because we don’t fully know how yet. We can catch glimpses of the ‘promised land’ but until we actually arrive, they are just fleeting glimpses.
Our predominant technologies, whether they be human, measurement, economic or industrial, are themselves largely mechanistic in design and function and basically are not able to create the shifts in behaviour we desire. We need new holistic technologies that we apply to a whole system and measure holistically in kind.
If we are to view leadership from a holistic perspective, it is really not useful to consider what ‘makes up’ a good leader, as this maintains a mechanistic paradigm. Growing leaders and leadership is not just about learning new strategies or techniques. Rather, the truest measure of your leadership is in ‘what is created’ under your watch; in your team, your organisation, your community and in the world at large.
Knowing what you wish to create is a daring place from which to begin the quest for leadership development. To start by asking yourself, “What sort of leader do I wish to be?” and having a personal vision for yourself as a leader is the most likely way you will achieve it.
Leading people is neither simple nor linear in nature. It may be apocryphal, but Einstein is said to have had a sign on his office wall at Princeton that said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Leadership is a lot like that. While we can certainly put KPI’s in place to measure what a manager does or doesn’t do, quantifying leadership is not so cut and dried. The days are long gone when organisations that want to be at the forefront can rely merely on ‘competent supervision’. They require good leadership.
Developing leadership capability requires ongoing commitment to be in the realm of the unknown, the uncountable and the emergent. It requires growing spontaneity: the ability to respond to the unexpected in as adequate a manner as possible. It requires reflection to learn from the inevitable mistakes that should be made along the way. It requires an investment of time, energy and money; all of which are the main excuses not to do anything new, when the actual reason is fear.
None of us is a ‘born leader’; although some have been blessed with a genetic disposition and life experiences that may make the quest less demanding. Leadership is multi-disciplinary; it involves a breadth and depth of individual capability that none of us acquires innately. Developing our leadership capability is an act of will.
The range of capabilities often ascribed to good leadership includes things like good communication, empathy, self-knowledge and visionary action. Research in the area of emotional intelligence indicates that these capabilities are both recognisable and learnable. However, genuine interest, hard work and personal investment are required, in the pursuit of acquiring these capabilities.
So, the whole leader is one who recognises and behaves as if the buck does actually stop with them; and who is willing to get to the inner workings of who they are as a person, consciously transforming themselves into the leader they wish to become; shifting their effort from trying to change or blame other people to changing their approach and personally trying out new approaches. This leader is then more likely to achieve the results and outcomes they are looking for from their people.
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