An Unexpected Conclusion:
Bordas (2007, p. 24) reports that perspectives
on leadership are changing from an individualistic, self-centered orientation
to a we or other-centered orientation. I think the point is correct, but may
not work quite as suggested. In the 1980’s, I reviewed the leadership
literature in much the same way discussed above. An “individualistic” perspective
was more dominant then, but a “we or other-centered” orientation was certainly
present as well. I think we have seen less of a change from one approach to the
other as a gradual and persistent discontinuation of the individualistic
approach, because it simply does not work as well. Leadership in today’s
organizations is a collective effort that is far too complex to be entrusted to
a single person or even a few people within a large organization.
Perhaps more to the current point,
we have learned that leadership cannot be limited to one person or to a few
people in a large organization. Leadership is collective whether we want it
that way or not. This truth may be what mostly accounts for the “change” from
“an individualistic, self-centered orientation to a we or other-centered
orientation.” — It works like this.
Leadership is the “black matter” of organizations and is, thus,
pervasive throughout the organization.
The potential for leadership events is present everywhere and at
all times within the organization.
The potential to initiate or participate in a leadership event is
present in each person within the organization, although some people are more
able to initiate and sustain leadership events than others.
Along with planned and intentional leadership events, unplanned
and spontaneous leadership events can and do happen anywhere in the
organization and at any time.
Along with the planned and intended leadership events initiated
by the organization’s identified leaders (formal leadership), numerous other
leadership events are playing themselves out, with that number increasing
geometrically as the size of the organization increases. Think of those events
as ad hoc leadership events.
Ad hoc leadership events are ubiquitous within the organization
and may be constructive or destructive, related or unrelated to organization
goals and purposes, limited to a few people or involving many, known to the
formal leadership or unknown, time-limited or ongoing.
Within any organization, there is a level of ad hoc leadership
chaos that is unavoidable and ongoing. A central challenge of formal leadership
is to recognize that chaos and to avoid its becoming destructively
counterproductive from an organizational perspective.
In relation to formal organization
purposes, limiting leadership to the formal leadership and to the goals and
purposes of the formal leaders would seem most desirable. Let the designated
leaders lead and everyone else fall in line as ready and willing followers.
Whether this would be desirable or not is certainly questionable. That not
withstanding, perhaps the most significant finding of contemporary leadership experts
is that desirable or not, it simply does not work.
Much if not most leadership
conversation revolves around why an individualistic, self-centered orientation
is bad and a we or other-centered orientation is good. Teams and team work are the best leadership strategies for
any organization. Putting the earlier point in a different frame, teams and
team work (leadership events) are not just the best leadership strategy, they
are the only leadership strategy available to us. Any leadership strategy
that purports to function otherwise is doomed to partial, if not complete,