There is a huge quantity of information, courses, self-empowerment and other material around the concept of leadership. Much of it misses three very important points:

  • Leadership cannot be bestowed in a job title or job role by an employer;

  • People who want to be leaders generally do not make good leaders and are often unable to become real leaders at all;

  • People who are inspired, passionate and motivated by a particular cause or idea tend to become leaders without even trying.

 

This is because a leader is just someone who has voluntary followers. It's that simple.

Just because a job title has 'manager' or even 'leader' in it does not make that person a leader. Being part of a 'Senior Leadership Team' (often found in educational institutions) does not make someone a leader. Even being a Commander in the army does not mean the person is necessarily a leader.

 

You are a leader if, and only if, people follow you of their own accord. Following does not mean doing what you tell them to. Generally, in the hierarchical structures that form most organisations in the Western World, people will do what senior people tell them to if they have a higher rank. This is because their job, or position, depends on doing so. But that does not mean that they are folllowing you, and it certainly doesn't mean you are leading them.

Leadership is neither good nor bad - Nelson Mandela was a powerful leader and so was Adolf Hitler. People followed them. They inspired people. They motivated people with their passion. Ask yourself who the real leaders are in your organisation. If there is friction between different groups, excessive rivalry and absenteeism, poor productivity, apparent complacency or active antagonism against organisational goals, then the business owners and managers are not the leaders. The leaders are the people that other people follow. 

A fourth point which is often ignored or not understood by much of the available material on leadership, is that organisations are living systems, autopoietic networks, and as such cannot be absolutely controlled, only disturbed (1). People are living beings. People working together in groups form living networks - a living system with multilateral rules of operation which are often self-generating and self-perpetuating under their own momentum. Leaders touch the leverage points which provide guiding disturbances to such systems and cause them to change and evolve. Such evolution may be constructive or destructive to company aims and goals. These networked living systems form the culture of an organisation. And culture is the most powerful leader in every organisation.

Facilitating a positive culture coherent to organisational aims is essential. The most effective culture will empower people, and the living systems, throughout the organisation to contribute their maximum, be inspired and to lead each other.  Systemic Creative Leadership training, coaching and analysis focusses on this hugely powerful concept. It views the organistion as an organism and seeks to foster coherent and effective leadership throughout. 

 

To exemplify the relevance and power of this approach, consider your own life and the network of living systems that form your body. When did you last remind yourself to breathe? When did you last tell your immune system how to fight those bacteria you inhaled? When did you last instruct your kidneys to filter your blood?... Your body is not controlled by your executive function. Neither is your organisation.

1. Maturana, Humberto R./Varela, Francisco J. (1980): Autopoiesis and Cognition. The Realization of the Living.