Illustration courtesy of Nini Baseema (http://oneselfportraitaday.tumblr.com/)
Browsing a leadership bestseller this past weekend, in the table of contents I noticed this chapter: “Chapter Nine: A Leader’s Impact: The Transfer of Influence from Leader to Follower“.
For me, that sentence alone captures all that is wrong with the mainstream approach to leadership.
I take issue with that statement and with its underlying assumptions:
a) it is the title of chapter 9, with the book presenting leading as a linear process. There is part 1, about “earning the right to lead through character“; then part 2, where you are “leading on the field“; and finally part 3, to which chapter 9 belongs. The title for part 3 is: “consequence: creating a culture, leaving a legacy of values“. But this not how it happens in real life. All those factors are at play at the same time
b) the sentence “the transfer of influence from leader to follower” assumes the following:
– in the linear sequence presented in the book, the leader leads, then when the situation is under control he or she can relax and let the “follower” partake of a little bit of power to help create a “culture” (which celebrates the legacy of the leader!). But the situation may never get under control. Furthermore, a culture is created by collective habits of interaction, not by a “transfer of influence”
– the “leader” has something called “influence”, a thing; he has that because of his or her character; the leader can transfer that “something” to “followers”. Wrong, wrong, wrong. “Influence” is not a thing. Influence is a dance where all the parties involved co-construct meaning and negotiate agreements. The “follower” has as much of an active role as the “leader”. Influence is mutual*
– there is someone who is a “leader” and someone who is a “follower”. Wrong. There is an ongoing relationship. If we take a snapshot at some point in time, we can see someone take on more of a leadership function and someone else accepting that. At a different point in time it might be viceversa. Or anything in between. “Leader” and “follower” may be used to characterize the relationship at some specific time, not to label the people involved.
I am not denying the fact there is a leadership function.
I am challenging the “static” and “linear” view of it.
I am introducing a more science-based view of the leadership function which is rooted in complexity, co-construction, inter-action. the in-between.
* too many times I saw the following dynamic happen – leader calls for a meeting to “sell” his / her brilliant idea. “Followers” very convincingly object to the leader’s idea but also contribute some new interesting ideas to solve the issue at hand. Leader abandons his / her original idea – only to call a new meeting shortly afterwards to “sell” a new idea which happens to be the “followers'” idea, maybe slightly repackaged. “Followers” obviously buy it, since it was proposed by them, leader is happy to have “influenced” them. And all this without the leader being aware of whose idea it was. Who is influencing whom? – note: you can see dynamics of co-influencing happen in shorter time-frames, within a single brief conversation…