Leadership or Authority – what do you practise?

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.

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As Ai Group's Principal Adviser - Leadership Development, Claire partners with clients to develop strategies that increase the effectiveness of leadership and its alignment with business goals. An experienced Facilitator and Coach working at the individual, team and organisational level to improve the practice of leadership, Claire was the Project Lead for a Senior Leadership Development Program that was ‘highly commended’ at the Australian Institute of Training & Development (AITD) Awards in 2014.

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  1. John Goddard

    Claire I am surprised to be the first person to comment on this interesting post. Does it mean that AIG members have no time or interest to explore good content on management and leadership and not comment? A month is a long time, especially since the recent publication of the excellent AIG report “Addressing enterprise leadership in Australia.”
    I really hope that all members take 30 minutes to read the report and use it as a discussion point within their own leadership team. As a former CEO who transformed a small family owned business into a market leader, I can confirm the importance of developing managers and their teams to maximise staff engagement, customer satisfaction, profit and shareholder wealth. Please keep promoting the importance of innovative education in the workplace at all levels.
    John Goddard, Better Managers

    1. Claire Summerer (Post author)

      Thanks John for your post and for your comments. I have received considerable feedback on the publication outside of the blog which has been encouraging. Perhaps people are just not as willing to share their comments publicly? I think it’s a great idea of yours to take the report and use it as a discussion point in leadership teams. Perhaps we could also use this opportunity to ask some pertinent questions such as: “What does leadership look like in our organisation and how well do our leadership behaviours align with our organisational goals/aspirations?” I ran a workshop last week in which I asked everyone in the room to estimate what percentage of their potential/capability/initiative they believed they were bringing to work with them each day. The responses varied somewhere between 40-55%. That’s a lot of potential in our organisations that remains untapped. I guess the question I would then ask is: “What leadership practices are we engaging in that result in a contribution of between 40-55% of an individual’s true potential?” Much work to be done John. Thanks for starting the conversation.


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