A new narrative for leadership

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In my professional consultancy career to date working with organisations large and small in the private, third and government sectors; and un-organisations (for example the quake-hackers[1] movement in Nepal) facilitating leadership development in various contexts I have experienced both new and incumbent leaders failing, growing and succeeding in their leadership roles, and in their development of leaderfulness, at all stages of their careers. One of the key questions I have asked, and that leadership studies explores, is ‘why are some leaders successful’?

My critical observations, plus an initial overview of the literature on leadership and leadership development suggest that excellence in leading is less about technical, organisational capabilities and knowledge or competencies, but about who these leaders are (their character) and how they are able to be ‘with’ and ‘for’ the groups of people they lead. As philosopher Eisenstein says “how they are a servant of and hold the stories” of the webs in which they sit (Eisenstein, 2015). And to some extent how they are able to be both within the story and simultaneously step out and see the whole “web” (Geertz 2000) i.e. the completeness and / or complexity of the many societal, organisational and cultural norms and power-structures that create, support and also bind them. In leadership studies and leadership development these aspects appear, at first, to be contained within the notions of ‘authentic leadership’.

However ‘authentic leadership’ has its limitations: which of our multiple selves, should we be authentic to; what if we have yet to form the fullest, truest form of our selves i.e. being authentic to the present self is actually limiting becoming? (Ibarra 2015); what if the leader’s authentic self is not actually a good, helpful and likeable self?

My suggestion is that we need to go deeper than authentic behaviour, than authentic leadership and look at (leaders’) character in the context of others, and in the context of the rest of the world – to work not on the process of being authentic, but on whom we are being authentic to.

Part two to follow….

[1] Quake-hackers refers to the thousands of people who came together in spontaneously created groups to provide fast, effective relief to the many victims of the earthquakes in April and May 2015. This was a grassroots response to the tardy, ineffectual humanitarian and government efforts, employing digital technologies and social networks.

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