09 October 2007

Liberation Leadership

For me, the measure of progress is autonomy. People with cars are more advanced than people who only have shoes because people with cars have more choices about where to go and when. People who live in a democracy are more advanced than people who live under rule of a despot because they have more choice about how to live their lives.

If autonomy is the measure of progress, it suggests something about leadership. Peter Block once said that he saw leadership as a collusion between control freaks and the irresponsible. In my mind, genuine leadership shows people a way out - it instructs, inspires, and liberates a person to live life more fully. Great leadership should end at some point - leaving the person more free than when first led, more able to define and pursue a life of one's own choosing.

One of the many problems with most models of leadership is that they institutionalize leadership into a position. I think that leadership ought to be better thought of as a project - like parenting. Get the led to a particular point and then allow them their own lives. Employees, citizens, and believers all ought to reach a point of graduation, like students, after which they are expected to operate with what they have learned.

Leadership that does not have the goal of liberation is not leadership - it is control. Leadership creates choices, control constrains them.

4 comments:

Norman said...

"Leadership creates choices"

Additionally, leadership must provide value to those being led. When the value ends, so should the role of follower.

If we think of leadership as an inherent responsibility of every "boss" role, then the goodness or badness of that leadership is primarily a function of the individual's capacity to perform that role. Given that there is a wide range of capability between individuals, there likewise exists a broad spectrum of practiced leadership.

Question: So why do people continue to work for the pointy-haired boss?

Ron Davison said...

Norman,
I suppose that every person settles to the extent that they feel that the risk / reward for change is too high. Great leaders are very rare - the odds of getting to follow one are pretty small.

Norman said...

"Great leaders are very rare - the odds of getting to follow one are pretty small."

Ron, for me, these words conflict with your normal, optimistic view of the world.

Allow me to challenge the assumptions underneath these words.

I'll start by offering a definition of what is "leadership." There are many, many verbalizations of this, but I think the most precise is from Jaques & Clement in "Executive Leadership."

From page 4:
"Leadership is that process in which one person sets the purpose or direction for one or more other persons, and gets them to move along together with him or her and with each other in that direction with competence and full commitment."

Note that this defines leadership as a process, not as a set of mysterious traits or characteristics.

In addition, as a process, leadership is not a free-standing activity, but rather one of many responsibilities of some, but not all, roles.

From this starting point, good leadership then becomes a matter of competent individuals executing the process of leadership well.

The question then becomes, why is good leadership not the norm? Perhaps it has to do with the structure of our organizations?

Ron Davison said...

Norman,
leadership, to me, suggests just two things: you have people following you and you can take them somewhere they haven't been. I still maintain that leaders - people who both have a sense about a new territory and can get people to follow - are rare. Much of what passes for leadership is actually cajoling people in a poor attempt to compensate for poorly designed systems with unclear causation and linkages.