Leadership is ripe for an overhaul. It has become seriously bloated as more and more expectations are piled on the shoulders of leaders. Having to be all things to all people is not conducive to focus. Fortunately, it is now widely recognized that executives can no longer provide all the direction an organization needs. The world today is too complex and fast changing. So, we have two choices:
1) Hang onto the notion that leadership is a top-down force.
This means changing the goalposts to say that leadership fosters thinking about new directions in others. While leaders might provide a broad vision, most of the thinking about how to get there must be done by others, facilitated by the leader.
2) Our second option agrees that executives need to be facilitative, but denies that this is leadership.
On this version, leadership is as much bottom-up as top-down. Here, we recognize that business today is a war of ideas and that power is no longer about position or personality. It’s about who has the best ideas, something no one can monopolize. Because good ideas can be promoted by anyone, leadership can come from anywhere in the organization.
Executives need to see that they wear many hats besides the leadership one. They can be catalysts, coaches, and facilitators, none of which is leadership except in the trivial sense that they are done by the person in charge. However, if we equate leadership with being in charge, we rule out bottom-up leadership, a vital source of new directions. The second option also preserves the intuition that leadership provides direction; it promotes a new way forward. This model of leadership is empowering for everyone. Executives no longer need to appear as though they have all the answers and employees at lower levels can be recognized for being able to show leadership. Ownership for determining direction is now more widely shared.
Leadership is thus not a role or position, but a free-floating act. In a meeting, it can shift from one person to another. This leadership is not about taking turns running the meeting. It is rather about promoting a better way of doing things or a new product.
To show leadership, you need something worth saying and the courage to say it. Leadership is simply an organizational function, like sales and marketing. It is defined by the purpose it serves: to promote a better way.