I am grateful to my colleague Miriam Gilbert for sharing Colin Newlyn’s blog arguing that “Leadership is not a thing“. Please do read it. It argues that the one thing leaders have in common is that they have followers. That’s true of the vast range of people who could be described as “leaders”, despite them having widely different behavioural styles, personalities and traits. Churchill, Ghandi, Trump, Beckham and Bowie all get mentions in the blog and they are certainly very different people who led in different ways.
Marcus Buckingham and Adam Goodall define a leader as someone who has followers and therefore the role of the leader is to inspire followers by creating feelings such as:
- belonging to and connected with some greater purpose
- being valued
- being supported
- being challenged to improve
- being future-oriented
Colin Newlyn says “There’s no such thing as leadership but there are such things as leaders. We need you to go and be one, in your own, wonderfully different and uniquely powerful way.”
I’m not entirely convinced that there is no such thing as “Leadership”. I’ve worked for several inspirational leaders over the years (and come across many more that were, frankly, rubbish). One of my bosses gave every one of us in his management team a copy of “The Leader-Manager” by William D Hitt. Its sub-title is “Guidelines for action” and I found it a useful text.
Hitt says any model for leadership must satisfy 3 criteria. It must:
- define leadership in terms of the results achieved
- deal with how the results were achieved (it’s no good improving performance if it’s at the expense of disrupting the whole system)
- consider the time-frame because we know how easy it can be to achieve short-term results at the expense of long-term performance
His model for leaders as change agents has 8 components:
- Creating the vision
- Developing the team
- Clarifying the values
- Positioning and strategy development
It seems to me, all 8 of these are sensible things to do in order to build followers. Different leaders will (obviously) do these things in their own way and may put more emphasis on one or more of them. You would probably also conclude that all 8 can be learned. Almost everyone has a certain amount of leadership potential and we can all develop it further. Hitt’s view is that effective leadership should be viewed as a continuum and where we sit on that continuum might even vary from day to day and situation to situation.
It’s complex, of course. There’s often a desire to adopt a reductionist approach to solve complex problems. Was it Einstein who said: “All models are flawed but some are more useful than others“. I’m happy to agree that leaders need followers. However, at some point, people who aspire to have followers need to think about what they actually have to do. I think you need some sort of leadership model to help work out what you’re good at and what you need to work at.