We refer to our senior managers as our leaders let’s hope they are good leaders. Really when we think about it, leadership is not about having power or authority. It may help, but it is not at the source of leadership.
When we think about the world’s best leaders, Nelsen Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi to name but a few, or more recently Bill Gates, Jacinda Ardern or Elon Musk. What made them leaders was not authority but what they took a stand for based on what they believed – and their ability to engage others in what they saw as possible.
Martin Luther King saw that all inhabitants of the United States would be judged by their personal qualities and not by the colour of their skin. Nelson Mandela saw the end to apartheid in South Africa. Bill Gates saw that every single person in the world could have easy access to computers. Elon Musk saw that we needed to shift the way we relate to our planet and its precious resources. Even bigger than that, move to multiplanetary living to protect the human race.
These people didn’t have great positions of authority when they started on their journey, they had a vision and were able to mobilise others in pursuit of that vision. Yes, they might have acquired great ‘authority’ along the way, but this did not and does not define them as leaders.
Leadership is not a title, role or position. It is the ability to see something as possible, and despite all the evidence that it is not predictable, to pursue that possibility and enroll others in doing the same.
This is great news, as leadership is available to everyone!
It is the pursuit of what your heart desires, and the capacity to enroll others in working with you to bring that into existence. It’s easy to find out what your heart desires, you just need to ask yourself one question and then really think…
Now, we can’t all be a Nelson Mandela. However, in our workplaces and lives, we can share what really matters to us, communicate this and enroll others to join us – followers – people who want the same. In our workplaces this might be equality, ending suffering, both physical and mental, being healthier at work or creating the sort of workplaces where people really thrive and enjoy life.
So, creating workplaces where people are safe to speak up, share what is important to them is critical if we want people to step up as leaders. If we create these psychologically safe organisations, we can evoke leadership in everyone, and then equip them with additional skills to bring meaningful change into our organisations.
Oh and by the way, leadership is not about knowing the answer. I don’t think that any of the people I mentioned earlier knew how to achieve what they ‘saw’ would come about – Martin Luther King had a “I have a dream..” speech, not a “I have a plan speech”!
And this brings us very nicely to another very important point about leadership. In life we get presented with many problems or challenges, many of which we’ve seen before – we can simply apply what we have previously learned and defer to expertise or hierarchy to work through them. However, if we are working on bringing something new into existence, that we have never accomplished before the problems we will need to overcome by definition have no known solutions. We simply don’t have the answers. This calls for a different leadership skill – we call this Adaptive Leadership – which is all about effectively leading when you don’t have the answers. The good news is this can be learned through a process – one of engaging everyone to work through the challenge and solution – together.
In WhyNot we have developed a body of work to support people as they mobilise themselves and others to bring into existence a future that is both desirable and unpredictable.
How do we…
Increasingly we are seeing more people ask us for our help in this area. With the changes forced upon us by COVID and the world adjusting to the latest normal, let’s create an environment that gets everyone in the game of building the future we all desire – by evoking leadership in everyone.
In conclusion – Leading in the face of complex challenges with no easy answers is about creating an environment for collaborative learning and innovation. Adaptive Leadership is about taking on these new and difficult challenges, which calls for leading when you don’t know the answer and relies on engaging others, experimenting and learning together.
Leaders are culture creators. In this sense leading is the thinking, speaking, listening and most importantly ‘being’ that intentionally generates the environment in which effective work happens in an organisation.
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