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Reframing Leadership

Posted  |  by Raphael Amato

Leadership is a very popular topic. Peruse any business section of Chapters Indigo or Amazon and you will discover our hunger to understand leadership and become better leaders. Discussions about leadership are everywhere; everyone has an opinion about what leaders should do to move a group, organization or country out of confusion and into the “Promised Land.” This underscores our collective belief that leadership is essential and required to create a better future.

Notice when you walk into any room and ask people to define leadership you will get a number of responses that reflect the various mental models and beliefs.  How divergent are the responses?

As the discussion continues, someone will most likely suggest that leadership is not necessarily embedded in the person occupying the authority role; suggesting that leadership can be assumed by anyone. This is usually followed with a statement that we need someone in charge in order to succeed. Being in a position of authority, however, is not synonymous with leadership.

Many blogs and articles call on leaders to take action themselves. In fact, it seems there is no shortage of material or suggested approaches to develop the leaders of tomorrow. From leadership competencies to leadership development programs to Covey’s Seven Habits, a plethora of options exists.

You might believe we have become so obsessed with leadership that we are, in essence, looking for a super-human to lead us. Our ability to find the “right” leader has become most important. The quest to find or create the perfect leader can become a problem unto itself and inadvertently communicate a disempowering message to everyone but the leader.

Somehow we have come to believe that defining the necessary qualities and qualifying leadership will help us get leadership right.  Yet we continue to be disappointed in our leaders.  Rather than spend more time in the quest of the “right” qualifier and competencies, we may need to reframe our understanding of leadership and move away from a focus on the individual “leader.”

What happens if we change our understanding and view leadership as a practice where the responsibility of creating a better future falls on everyone?  What happens if we move away from a focus on the person in authority and invite everyone to assume responsibility?   

Relational Leadership in this context is not suggesting that we need to take an individual and develop new qualities and  competencies, but rather it focuses on synergistic and collaborative practices – the relationships – that develop between members of a community or organization. We need to pay attention to what happens between people and not just what emanates from those in authority.

Leadership is the capacity to move members of any organization to realize its mission.  What makes this happen?  If we start to focus on what occurs when people gather, what motivates and mobilizes the energy of the group, new patterns begin to emerge.

In Relational Leadership, there are a number of implicit assumptions:

  • People care about their organizations
  • People are motivated to learn new ways of thinking and doing things
  • The capacity to change depends on the capacity to cooperate and collaborate

Given these assumptions, mobilization and motivation stop becoming the primary responsibility of the person in authority.  It becomes a responsibility assumed by all members of the organization.  The role of the “leader” shifts away from being the motivator and visionary responsible for all problems the organization faces.  Rather it becomes an act of convening and allowing for open and frank dialogue about the intent and purpose of the organization.

Whether it be in our organizations, our communities or our world, what creates change, what creates momentum and what creates new possibilities is an increasing awareness of new ways of looking at how we behave in our organizations.  Yes, those in authority play a key role; however leadership occurs beyond the “leader.”

By shifting our focus from those in authority to what occurs between members of an organization, we can begin to appreciate that leadership is a relational reality.  Seeing leadership in this way opens new ways of understanding and framing leadership.

Please comment and share your thoughts about Relational Leadership!

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