Leadership as communal verb

When most people talk about leadership, it seems to me that they are referring to it as a concept, as an abstract noun. In this way of thinking, the way to become good at it is to learn more about the concept. In other words, we become better leaders by accumulating knowledge about it – we read books and articles, we attend workshops & courses, we get degrees in it. This aggregation of knowledge makes us better leaders.


Wait a minute. Time out. Does it? If this is true, why is it that there are so many qualified managers and leaders who don’t have a clue about leading others? According to Gallup poll the No.1 reason why people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor.

We need to get away from the taken-for-granted idea that leadership is a noun. Just type the word leadership into google, you’ll get thousands if not millions of articles about leadership. What you won’t get are articles about redundancies, downsizing, the introduction of sustainability plans, the use of zero hour contracts, re-branding, mergers, etc. For me, however, the latter are precisely about leadership. It is about how leadership is enacted. How leaders/managers do these things defines their leadership. Their identity as leaders comes from how people experience their actions, perhaps importantly, their interactions with others.

Leadership does not exist outside of relationships. It is a relational activity. It is a communal verb. It comes from noticing (and being reflexive about) relational interactions and patterns in a given context. It is the act of ethically co-creating social realities and coordinating relational patterns through generative conversations.

One thought on “Leadership as communal verb

  1. I have just managed to delete a comment so I will start again.

    Are you making the common mistake of thinking that a leader is ‘the man at the top’? This is all part of the error that takes the ‘is as the ought’. In this case that all social, political. commercial and religious structures are pyramid shaped with a man at the top. “It is not necessarily so,” as Gershwin put into the words of a song.
    Do we really need such leaders as Caesar, Attila, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler and all those others who succeeded marvelously in making the world a worse place than it was before they arrived on the world stage?
    There is an interesting little story, more in the way of a parable really. It goes that the trees were looking for a fit tree to be ruler over the forest, They interviewed in turn the olive, the fig tree and the vine but these all turned the offer down as having something better and more useful to do, so they could not possible rule over the trees, as what they did was too valuable. Finally, and in despair to find a suitable candidate, they turned to the thorn bush who, having nothing better to do gladly took the position. The results in the real life situation which the story depicted were disastrous.
    This story, I believe, tells us something about the sort of people who want to dominate others.
    In fact there may be many millions of kindly, helpful and good folk who are a wonderful example of the best of humanity and if we change the idea of leader to that of positive and good example, you will see what I mean.
    One such man, when his followers argued over positions of authority, told them as follows. “If anyone among you wants to be great let him be your servant. And if anyone wants to be first let him be your slave.” The giver of this supremely excellent advice then continued. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
    All your organisers in lesser positions also serve those over them, but dominate those under them. If it had been their ambition, which it usually is, then, they too are becoming smaller thorn bushes and fail to see that the best work of all is to serve our fellows and so make the world a better place.
    Judges 9:8-15. Matthes 20:25-28.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s