Friday, 29 January 2010

Kindred spirits

For years I have been ‘banging on’ about a particular approach to improving leadership – in essence, one that is more organisation-centred, compared with the individualistic model. I say: “If you want to find leadership, don’t search for the leader, first look at what is going on inside the organisation” (i.e. manage the fishtank more than the fish).

At times I have found that a lonely furrow to plough (mixing my metaphors). But for the first time at this year’s annual Windsor Leadership Dialogue on 25 January, I sensed that the penny was beginning to drop. When a few people shouted that what I was saying about current leadership surely couldn’t be true, others responded from their own experience saying ‘Yes, it is’. That was so reassuring.

Something else happened on Wednesday to cheer my heart. In the Society section of the Guardian newspaper I found an illuminating article by Esther Cameron of the Integral Change Consultancy saying much the same thing (‘Shifting into a higher gear’). Claiming that a “fresh type of leadership is urgently required …”, Esther argues for six important shifts. Some quotes from her article are:”

“… removing obstacles and unleashing energy, not doing change to people”
“ departmental leaders are still defending their fiefdoms.”
“There is still too much blind faith in management training. Unless it’s precisely targeted, the impact on delivery is small. … .
“Leaders instead need to focus on identifying the deeper obstacles to higher performance …”
“Learn to have tough conversations about what’s not working. This means getting beyond half-hearted performance reviews.” [See most recent post.]

Reading Esther’s article, it would be easy to feel ‘Here’s a rival; a systems approach to leadership is my speciality.’ But I felt ‘Thank God I am not alone in this battle for ideas and common sense. A fresh perspective on leadership needs wide support if organisations as a whole are to be better led.’ Training and expecting managers to be good leaders isn’t enough, especially if they are expected to navigate shark-infested waters.