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.