We are stuck in an outdated notion that leadership is about hierarchy and power – very much the ‘great man’ (and that’s usually a white man) theory of leadership – which is always going to be a highly elitist and limited view. The complexity of the challenges we now face requires a new way of thinking about leadership. We see leadership as mobilising people to face reality – both the tough challenges and the new opportunities.
Real leadership is a much more inclusive and collaborative activity. There are people right across our communities who don’t have formal power or hierarchical power who are exercising leadership every day on tough issues – people who wouldn’t necessarily identify with the word ‘leadership’ – but we continue to look to ‘leaders’ for the answers, and, increasingly, because of the complex nature of the world, those people fail to provide those answers and then we blame them. We do it continually with our political leaders. Our expectations are out of control because we’re looking for a messiah, and this is really unhelpful because it’s a fantasy.
Thinking about leadership in a different way – that it’s not about the attainment of, and the holding on to, and the use of power, it’s about mobilising people to face reality and take responsibility for the tough issues they face and find a way of working together to bring about real and fundamental changes. Ultimately it’s about human progress.
When we can start to think of leadership as an activity that brings about real progress in a community or a system, as an activity that can be done by anyone, then that starts to free us up.