What Kind of Leadership Do We Need?

A Leadership Crisis?
Recent global events suggest we have some kind of leadership crisis. Banking scandals, the VW emissions saga, the political crisis in Brazil and the doping and financial scandals that engulfed athletics and football last year are just a microcosm of the challenges the world is facing. And of course it’s true that we are desperate for leadership to respond to these issues. To point the way forwards, to galvanise people to action and to lead by example.

So why don’t we see enough of this kind of leadership – the kind that is self-less, not selfish? The type that brings people together and gives power away, rather than the kind that seeks to concentrate power and consolidate position?

Why Leadership Training often Fails
Well, perhaps we’ve been looking at leadership in the wrong way. A 2014 McKinsey study found four main reasons why leadership training programmes fail:

1. Overlooking context: Understanding the context that leadership will operate in is vital. A simple question we need to ask more is “who or what do we need leadership for?”
2. Decoupling reflection from real work: When learning fails to connect into the reality of our day-to-day work, it ends up as just another experience. Too many leadership programmes simply end up reflecting - rather than transforming - the status quo.
3. Underestimating mind-sets: Leadership cannot be mastered by skill alone, it takes all of us to lead effectively – our values, beliefs, attitudes and emotions all show up in our leadership behaviour. If we don’t address these, our leadership will always be derailed by them.
4. Failing to measure results: Steven Covey memorably suggested we ‘begin with the end in mind’, and leadership programmes are no different. When we start the journey we need to decide what success will look like, and consider then how best to measure the changes we want to see.

The True Leader Eats Last
Leadership speaker and author Simon Sinek recently wrote a book entitled “Leaders Eat Last”. In it, he explores the implicit bargain we make with those who lead. In return for their benefits and privileges, we expect them to sacrifice their own comfort and stand up for everyone when danger threatens.

And here’s the real problem; most organisations are now threatened by danger every day.

For businesses that includes addressing social problems in the communities that they work in, responding to digital disruption, and addressing the shifting nature of consumer concerns and behaviour.

Sporting institutions are waking up to the expectations that fans expect them to do much more in their local and wider communities, whilst governing bodies scramble to find a positive response to the stories that threaten the credibility of their sports.

In truth, it’s almost impossible for organisations to operate today without taking into consideration the threats and opportunities that exist all around them. Which means that we need leaders who are prepared to sacrifice their own comfort, needs and status every single day.

The Leader as Servant
As we think about the type of leadership we need, the term servant leadership springs to mind. It’s a well-established view of leadership (coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970) albeit one that has never quite made the mainstream, possibly because it is such a challenging view of leadership. Greenleaf said:

“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

In a world where collaboration is vital and networks are replacing hierarchies, this is finally a view of leadership I can sign up to, and help others to do the same.

For more on our approach to Leadership Development click here: http://cocreateconsultancy.com/what-we-do/leadership-development