Despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on leadership development initiatives each year, there appears to be a major faultline in our collective leadership. If engagement can be viewed as a barometer of the health of our workplaces and the net effect of our leadership, then we are not where we would like to be, or need to be, if we wish to improve our capacity to innovate and become more competitive.
In Ai Group’s discussions with many individuals, we are becoming increasingly aware that when we seek details about leadership practices within organisations, what we are actually hearing are stories about authority. This misunderstanding, between the use of authority and the practice of leadership, is at the heart of many of our leadership failures. A ‘leader’ may find themselves in a position of authority for many years, yet never actually practise leadership.
To be fair, there are many occasions where the application of authority is appropriate and necessary, but these are not where the stories of leadership can be found. The complex problems that our organisations find themselves facing cannot be solved with the expertise of those in positions of authority alone. The leadership required to fix these problems cannot be broken down into steps.
Since we won’t be able to do the important work that needs to be done through the use of authority alone, we need to learn how to practise adaptive leadership. This is the kind of leadership that will help us to navigate real change in our workplaces; to create cultures where trust and shared responsibility is the norm; and where complex problems can be solved by the stakeholders who are directly impacted and not just by those with the decision-making authority. This type of leadership will change the way our organisations look and the way in which we work together in order to achieve our collective purpose.
Among the stories of authority, we do also hear some tales of courage; they come from places often least expected – not from those in positions of authority, but from those whose desire to contribute, galvanise a team and challenge the status quo becomes greater than the fear of non-compliance with authority.
Leadership potential exists in all of our organisations. It just needs a different perspective from those in authority about what leadership could be and who has the right to practise it.
If you want to explore the leadership potential of your organisation, take the opportunity to be part of the Leadership Revolution.