Why Our Concept Of Leadership Needs To Change

Leadership theory is confused at the moment. It’s at a crossroads. Being a leader used to mean providing direction, but this idea is waning in popularity. Why? Because the world is changing:

o The boss no longer has all the answers; the world is too complex.

o Knowledge workers want to have their say, not be told what to do.

o The power of position and respect for authority are receding.

o We are into an era of partnership where hierarchy is downplayed.

o Loyalty is gone. Ordering people around only motivates them to leave.

Two ways to respond to the leadership crisis

1. We can say that leadership no longer involves providing direction. Instead it facilitates, empowers, develops, nurtures and inspires others to find their own directions. The new leader is a coach or supporter of others, not someone who calls the shots.

2. We can hold onto the idea that leadership indeed does point to new directions but say that leadership can be as much bottom-up as top-down. This means that bosses are doing something different when they support others. Dare we call this simply good management?

Pros and cons of these two ways of viewing leadership

The first option has the advantage of preserving the idea that people in charge of groups are leaders. They just have to behave differently. The disadvantage is that such a minor tweaking of the status quo does not do justice to an uncomfortable fact:

The power to move an organization in new directions is shifting from positional authority and the force of personality to the power of ideas. Because of innovation, business today is a war of ideas.

This fact suggests that leadership is becoming divorced from position, that anyone with a good idea for a better product or service who successfully promotes it to the organization-at-large is showing leadership. The second option accounts for our inconvenient truth a lot better. Hence, we need to say that leadership promotes new directions while management focuses on getting things done.

To make this view credible, however, we need to upgrade management. Instead of seeing management as a mechanistic controlling function, we need to see it as an inspiring, liberating, facilitative and supportive function. This is closer to reality. Facilitation is just facilitation. It does not somehow mysteriously become leadership just because someone in charge of a group is doing it.

If you have people reporting to you, showing leadership means promoting a better or new way of doing things. When you draw solutions out of your team, develop, coach and support them, you are wearing a management hat. In short, leadership sells the tickets for the journey; management drives the bus to the destination. It is not this simple, however. During major change, leadership will be needed on a continual basis to keep selling the advantages of the journey. But management is also necessary – good skills for motivating and coordinating the diverse inputs of a wide range of stakeholders.

Why is this important?

People in charge of organizations or large teams are overloaded with an excessive share of ownership for organizational success. Everyone else depends on them far too much. Empowerment was a small step in the direction of sharing ownership. If we want to engage and retain top knowledge talent and win the innovation war, we need to go much further and recognize that leadership is no longer about managing a team but a matter of promoting new ways of prospering in the fierce war of ideas regardless of who is doing it.


If you think these ideas are straightforward, check out a few of their implications:

– Leadership has nothing to do with getting things done or managing people. This is a management function.

– Leadership is not a role, only management is, hence there are no such things as formal leadership positions.

– Leadership can come from outside the organization as well as bottom-up. Anyone, inside or outside the organization who champions a new way forward is showing leadership if the organization follows.

– It is more important for management to be emotionally intelligent than it is for leadership. Front line knowledge workers who promote new products in an insensitive manner could still show leadership if they can make a sufficiently strong case for their ideas.


We need to revolutionize our thinking about leadership for a digital world where no one can monopolize it simply because no one has a monopoly on good ideas.

See http://www.leadersdirect.com for more information on this and related topics. Mitch McCrimmon’s latest book, Burn! 7 Leadership Myths in Ashes was published in 2006.

Article Source: https://EzineArticles.com/expert/Mitch_McCrimmon/79532

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