woensdag 12 december 2012

Why Leaders Lead

Everyone who has ever taken a more than average interest in the concept of leadership has come across the following question: "Can anyone become a leader?"

Having read numerous articles on leadership abilities, I have learnt that the subject-matter experts are less divided on this topic as those involved in the controversy around existential theories. Here one applies the evolution theory. Even more so, leaders are make-able. The majority of guru's tends to describe leadership in terms of developable personal attributes. Though some might find these 'skills of character' stronger developed at a young age than others, anyone could potentially step into the role. But what makes some people then decide to do so?

I am going to take you back a couple of years ago to an evening in Paris with a fellow HR professional. I vividly remember us sitting in a lovely small bistro, enjoying good food and wine, while discussing all kinds of HR topics. At some point we had somewhat of a debate about whether leadership is situational and brings attributes that can be switched on and off. One theory was supporting this. Examples were being given of people who are followers in a professional environment but leaders in private settings (e.g. captain of their sports team, community spokesperson etc.), or vice versa. The other theory invalidated this, saying these roles have nothing to do with leadership but with a pecking order. Authentic leadership comes with such a strong attitude that it will radiate in any situation a leader finds itself in, regardless of the individual's rank position in a group.

There was no winner to this discussion as we were not in it for the win in the first place. My field colleague and I like to meet up at least once a year to share our lessons learnt and to provoke each other's thoughts. Mine got provoked on that point where leadership becomes a calling, and what makes a person answer that 'call'. That's when I ran into the following article written in January 2005 by Michael H. Shenkman, President of Keystone International Inc., a strategic development group:


Although Shenkman wrote this article to point out the process of recognizing a leader, at the same time he revealed the true reason for answering the call: "envisioning something so large that it requires the collaboration of many people to accomplish it." This puts in question many of the choices that organisations have made in putting or accepting people in leadership positions. It also puts in question business studies that are focused on educating young people for efficiency and effectiveness of the 'collaboration' without them necessarily having the character skills (yet) to envision something larger than themselves. Imagine that many organisations will place these business school graduates in leadership positions straight after finishing study. Without further questioning whether this is the right order for a person to learn how to lead, I believe that purpose goes before everything. If not, one might accept a leadership role for the wrong reasons.

Do you know why you or your leader(s) chose to lead? If not for helping others to envision their role in the 'greater good', then why?

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