In the past there was a prevalent idea that all organisations had a leader at the helm and these leaders set the tone or culture of the organisation. This meant that the mindset of the leader cascaded throughout the organisation. If the leader (CEO) was effective then the organisation would be successful; if ineffective the organisation would fail - which is why leadership was seen as so important and a hot topic in training.
Most leadership courses taught that a good leader needed to have a vision, be in control of followers, lead the way and be a good role model. He or she had to be courageous, adaptable, cautious but willing to take risks, honest, a hard worker, good with words, inspirational and so on.
Then someone said that all that was fine and good but surely a manager had also to be courageous, adaptable, cautious but willing to take risks, honest, a hard worker, good with words, inspirational and so on.
Good point! So there were then great discussions about the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager, it was suggested, had status, handled day to day problems, resolved problems with staff and planned strategy for their department.
But didn’t a leader also have status, deal with problems, interact with staff and plan strategy?
The whole thing was getting very confused.
Especially when it was pointed out that Sally in Accounts or Tom in Security were quite often showing alarming signs of demonstrating leadership qualities. And they didn’t have any followers and were not particularly adaptable or courageous.
Sally for example suggested a new way of dealing with the figures coming in from all the different company plants which made comparing what was going on across the company as a whole much easier and much more efficient.
Tom in Security had come up with a piece of software (that he developed at home in his garage) that allowed him to maintain surveillance over the offices he was responsible for without walking miles every night ‘doing his rounds’. This made him happier with his job and actually increased security for the company.
Sally and Tom achieved success through:
When an organisation say they want to develop future leaders they often focus on Heads of Department and Line Managers and the focus in reality is getting these members of staff to become better at managing.
But managing is not the same as leadership. And leadership does not always come from someone at the top being a role model, having status and having ‘followers’.
Maybe what organisations should be doing is focusing on every member of staff and explaining how they can become great leaders – not in terms of making major strategic decisions about where the company is going but making a difference on a day to day basis by coming up with innovative improvements to the way things are done.
Every member of staff is a stakeholder – the organisation is a major part of their life and their future. Recognising that and treating staff with respect is one of the key ways an organisation can motivate, nurture and encourage ‘thought leaders’. Such an approach can help with staff retention, improve productivity, increase morale and create a ‘can do’ attitude.
Bottom up leadership really works.
To find out more about how leadership training has evolved read Mitch McCrimmon’s book Burn! 7 Leadership Myths in Ashes!