Sunday, June 16, 2013

Is Leadership Becoming Distorted Through Its Commercialisation?

If you Google ‘Leadership Courses’ you’ll find about 225,000,000 results – yep, two hundred and twenty five million results from academic institutions to basement ‘trainers’ offering to turn you into a fully-flexible leader, able to lead ‘anything anytime’ through their unique exposure to ideas and theories for a ‘small’ course fee, where with some you’ll actually have a qualification in ‘leadership’ at the end.
It’s clear that leadership is lacking in many facets of society, through politics, business, education and sport; and that the majority of ‘people’ around the globe are crying out for leaders to show the way forward – to get their country and/or businesses out of the mess it is in; to create employment; to link education and business; to stop corruption and fraud; and to give people a future for themselves and their children.
The problem with leadership is that often the theory doesn’t equate to good practice on the ground. The fact that there are clearly so few really good leaders should give us an inkling that leadership isn’t something you can commercialise for the masses and expect it to work – and that it is something rare and special that is often unique to a specific individual; in a specific situation; over a specific period of time – where the situation and the culture of the people they are leading, plays a significant part in the successful ‘leadership’ equation.
The danger of trying to ‘clone and commercialise’ leadership is that successful leaders can be different, to the extreme, depending on the situation – that’s in respect of behaviour; communication; approach; transparency; skills and knowledge – where ‘swopping’ two leaders who are successful within their ‘current situation’ and ‘team culture’ does not guarantee continued success.
Leadership is all about people – which is about having a team that will follow you because they want to; in order to achieve a specific objective – where in any specific circumstance a transactional or transformational approach may be required to ‘motivate the team’ to achieve a specific object, within a specific time frame, for a specific cost.
If you’ve met great leaders in your career to-date; then you’ll most likely have found that they haven’t learnt their leadership skills through some formal course – but have been ‘natural’ leaders – able to assess a situation and the personnel involved and through some form of tacit mutual agreement form a ‘bond’ to work together, sometimes over a long period of time, to achieve certain agreed objectives; through mutually agreed methods and constraints, for the benefit of all.
What you might have noticed with these great leaders is that their success as a leader is not just to do with them; but also the environment in which they are leading; and more importantly the team of people that they are leading as well. A leader may be successful in one situation with one group of people; but then fail miserably in a different situation with a different group of people, where I would suggest that it is the people, rather the situation that has the greatest influence on success and failure.
In fact through history the one thing that is clear is that all great leaders have had great followers, immediately below them, who in themselves were great leaders as well – but happy to be an extension of the ‘designated’ leader – rather than looking for individual credit. This second tier of leadership gets little attention in the debate and research of successful leadership – but in my experience they are a key ingredient that makes the ‘ultimate’ successful leadership scenario sustainable for a long period of time.
By creating too many people that see leadership as a ‘lead’ position rather than a support position to another ‘good ‘leader; will just add to the current problems with leadership, as they – being part of the problem, rather than the solution - will fail to create the right environment for ‘leadership’ to get the best results from a situation for the best optimal sustainable results. 
It’s unlikely we’ll change the ‘fad’ for leadership courses in the short term – but what is vital, if you genuinely want to be a great leader; is that you have to understand your people and accept that though you might be the designated leader – it is a team effort, where success or failure will depend on the ‘team’; and where you will instinctively know when to lead from the front; when to walk alongside them and when to take a ‘backseat’ and let the team ‘just get on with it.’

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