Friday, January 2, 2015


The concept of leadership attracts a lot of attention. Hard, though to shake off its 'heroic' dimensions.

The leader as corporate, or project, hero remains as strong as ever, particularly in recent times as popular management writing has shifted to managing culture...the 'soft' side of organisations and the NBT (next big thing) for consultants to take to market.

But, let's lift the lid on leadership.

First, one underlying objectionable concept.

Leadership fits well into a paternalistic conceptualisation of organisations. It either assumes that employees are unmotivated, unresponsive dullards, or that they need to be organised like children. Leadership seems to presume non-adult behaviour, in its worst manifestations.

The positive side of this is that the manager (I follow Mintzberg in this term) provides a 'holding' structure for staff (have a look at Heifetz on this), particularly when the environment presents challenges such as changing demands.

Second, the basic operational need in organisations, and projects too.

Managing information.

The 'leader's' job is to make sure that information flows to where it is needed. People will then lead themselves in terms of their role. If they don't you have the wrong people: professionals bring with them knowledge and understanding, initiative and, one hopes, self-awareness. Find such people if you don't have them.

Alongside managing information is creating it. Decisions create information. Decisions need to be informed, so the decision-maker needs to listen to those who can inform the decision. Then, make and communicate the decision, and leave space for your professionals to let you know the implications and dependencies attendant upon the change.

Third, let's not forget power.

The manager has power in an organisation: he/she controls resources, has 'clout' to talk to others that staff might not have and in many cases can hire and fire. The manager also allocates work and directs activity. If they are smart they do this collaboratively (see the first point, above). In most work settings, the power is underpinned by law, both statute and contract! Just look at the power the NSW Work Health and Safety Act thinks a manager (an 'officer') has!

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