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Why is the Essence of Leadership So Hard to Grasp?

Leadership Illusion
Why is the essence of leadership so hard to grasp? In The Leadership Illusion, authors Tony Hall and Karen Janman attribute it to the way in which we view leaders. We tend to over-emphasize character and underplay context. This gets to the heart of the leadership illusion: seeing leaders and leadership in one dimension. We ignore the context. When we evaluate the causes of the success or failure of leaders, we tend to “focus predominantly on the individual (sometimes the context), but very rarely both at the same time. The need to see someone as “fabulously successful or woefully inadequate” is strong. This causes us to underestimate the importance of context and connections when thinking about leaders and leadership. Leadership is not a solo performance.

The leadership illusion also influences how we predict leaders and train for leadership. When examining what makes for successful leadership we search for personal attributes and tend to ignore their context and connections. This caused Harvard professor Richard Chait to refer to some leadership researchers as organizational meteorologists. “His view being that we have as much a chance of predicting whether it will rain or shine three weeks hence as we have of reliably finding ourselves a suitable leader.” They write, “There are some aspects, some attributes, of an individual that make them successful as a leader. But we need to evaluate the person and the context in order to be clearer about whether what we perceive is real or illusory.”

Additionally, leaders should not be developed not in a vacuum but in the context within which they are to lead and in an environment that is fully supportive of that. “It doesn’t matter how effective a development technique may be in improving individual skills, if the organizational context is not supportive or consistent with the skills you have developed, the learning is likely to have little impact….There are far too many organizations that invest significant time and money in developing their people, but forget to develop or change the organization in tandem.” Do we develop strengths or weaknesses? “Our view is that you work on the skills and abilities that you need in order to perform effectively in your context….the end result being that development may encompass both strengths and weaknesses, as long as they are relevant to performance.”

The demand placed on us by living in such a connected world, has lead Hall and Janman to the concept of network leadership. Relationships matter. Developing the right kind of social capital is an increasingly important function for effective leaders. What kind of social capital to develop is context dependent.

Network leaders “bridge and they bond. They exhibit a balanced form of leadership that mixes the old with the new; combine radical approaches with received wisdom; and develop both breadth and depth of relationships.”
Leaders are not independent entities. Leaders do not exist by themselves in organizational space, but are spatially extended (through their networks). In this way the concept “individual leader” loses its meaning. … The network thus becomes an irreducible element of physical description.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:00 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Leaders , Leadership



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