Is ‘Leadership’ a dirty word in your organisation?

I find it curious that a number of ‘not anywhere nearly as old as I am’ future leaders have expressed in our coaching sessions that they are not sure they want to be a leader. When I probe these declarations, I find their perception is that being a leader requires them to be autocratic, tell people what to do, punish people, know all the answers, be ‘out in front’, or ‘on top’, ‘be the best’, ‘stand apart’, abandon empathy, put on an act (incongruence) and generally be someone they would not want to spend  time with.

This paradigm of leadership called to mind Handy’s God’s of Management or Goleman’s ‘commanding’ leadership style or Hershey & Blanchards highly directive leadership style. So I ask myself, where are these views of leadership coming from and importantly, why are other brands of leadership not getting the press they deserve? Do we not recognise different leadership approaches, or are the bad one’s so ‘bad’ that they eliminate all recollection of other approaches?

An approach I use with these disillusioned future leaders is to have them explore their understanding of different leaders they know and the different approaches they notice. We also explore where leadership behaviours emerge at different levels in an organisation, and in different circumstances. We also consider how such behaviours can inspire and motivate those around them. We can then start to dispel the myth that there is only one brand of leadership and accept, in fact, there are many brands. Importantly, I emphasise you are in control of your own brand of leadership both in defining it and living it out in practice. It is from this viewpoint that I can begin helping these future leaders formulate their own leadership brand and how they will role-model that brand so others can ‘see it in action’.

But it does raise the question about why so many myths of leadership still abound in today’s world? So here are some self-reflection questions for current leaders:

Could you summarise your leadership brand in a couple of sentences?

In what ways do you role-model your own leadership brand? Importantly what do you do, or not do, that specifically demonstrates your brand – remembering behaviours speak louder than words?

What situations, contexts and occasions challenge your ability to demonstrate your leadership brand? Are there times you abandon or compromise it, and if so, what are the long-term consequences of this?

Is leadership a ‘dirty word’ in your organisation? How can you recognise different examples of positive leadership behaviours that inspire and motivate people to step up and forward, regardless of their job title, or position in the hierarchy?

What systems, process, conversations, reward mechanisms or cultural signposts (posters, mugs, office layout, meeting practices, chain of command, language used, reactions to failure, treatment of people and unspoken prerequisites to progression) support outdated and unhelpful views of leadership and how can these be changed?

If you value organisational success it is important to inspire people at all levels to want to step forward, flourish and influence the organisation. Culture is one of the key reasons organisations fail to change, thrive and succeed and leadership behaviours are key influences of culture.