What is Leadership?

McKinsey has been doing some interesting work on Leadership recently.  Specifically, they have developed a new model of leadership, called “Centered Leadership”.  (note: free registration is required for this website). This model contains five dimensions of Centered Leadership: Meaning, Managing Energy, Positive Framing, Connecting and Engaging.  This month, they released the results of a global survey on Centered Leadership, which consisted of an on-line self-evaluation of approximately 2400 men and women.  The data showed that when we master at least one of the five dimensions of leadership, that we are twice as likely to feel that we can lead through change.  Those who feel they have mastered all five dimensions are “20 times more likely to say they are satisfied with their performance as leaders”.

Although I agree that self-confidence is an important element of leadership, I suspect that there might be some methodological issues with this survey.  Self-evaluation of leadership performance may have a fair amount of bias.  If leadership is about engaging others to pursue a particular vision for an organization, why aren’t we measuring effective leadership from the perspective of followers?

That said, I found the results interesting.  I found the five dimensions of leadership very interesting.  When I look at those dimensions, I want them in any employee, not just “leaders”. To me, this model is a model of self-management, not of leadership.  While self-management is an ingredient in leadership, it is not the entire recipe. 

Mary Crossan, a strategy professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, talks about “transcendent leadership”.  That is leadership consists of leadership of self, leadership of others and leadership of organization.  I would suggest that leadership of self is really about self-management, leadership of others is about managing and encouraging people, and only leadership of organization is truly leadership.

Which brings me to my point.  Has our modern conception of leadership grown to the point where everyone is a leader and every action is that of a leader? No one really wants to be a follower anymore.  Our culture rewards leaders and looks down on followers as sheep. Yet research suggests that bosses make about 15% of the difference between successful and unsuccessful outcomes. The rest comes from factors such as competition, social trends, implementation and resources. 

Perhaps we’d be better off learning to become more effective members of an organization, whether followers or leaders, and spend less time thinking about “leadership”.


2 replies »

  1. Colleen- everyone is someone else’s leader & we are all a follower of someone. So I suppose that is why there is such a focus on that. But I do agree that we would all be better off if we focused on giving our personal best to the group.

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