The Living Organisation :

The Leadership Industry

From Transactional to Transformational to post-heroic Servant leaders. From individual leadership to collective, distributed, acts of leadership. The leadership train moves on. I could write a book about it – – – .

The literature is huge with much of it is presented as “the (latest) answer.” That can offer some relief in that I don’t have to figure it out for myself, but this can be a way of falling into one the biggest leadership traps of all right from the outset; relying on the great author, ceo or other sundry “big person,” to tell me what to think or do (thus, on the other side of this dependency coin, encouraging the big person to believe that they do know what to think and do and to keep telling me.) Watch for the effects of the current “hot” guru’s latest thinking or the latest HBR Leadership article.

Leadership theory, ideas and experience can be fascinating, comprehensive, boring, lightweight etc. Whatever its qualities, if we use it to absolve us from the work of coming up with our own model of leadership, it will remain theory, disconnected and remote from our practice as leaders. If we swallow other people’s ideas whole, they remain as somebody else’s thinking, great in the library, but not available to us when in action.

An important job of leadership is to notice our own implicit thinking, ideas and assumptions in order to create our own explicit model of leadership against which we can continuously, day-to-day, test the effectiveness of our actions. Other people’s thinking will inform my thinking but if I chew these other’s ideas around for a while, integrate them with my own thinking and experience, and reform all of this into a shape that fits with who I am and the context I operate in, I am far more able to connect the theory (which has become my model) with my day-to-day practice as a leader in the organisation.

I think of books on leadership as an extended version of the above i.e. simply the author’s own attempts to make sense of their own experience and work out their own model, not to be swallowed whole by others but rather to encourage us all to do some of the same thinking for ourselves.