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Explore Selfless Leadership

Six Intelligent Leadership Questions which will teach us all we wish to know …

Throughout the Selfless Leader, six intelligent leadership questions have been applied to help in understanding all aspects of leadership.  Stephen Brookes first came across these questions in the early 1980s when he attended the Detective Training School at the Metropolitan Police in London.  Just as journalists learn this at journalism school to help them in asking questions about a developing ‘story’, detectives use the questions in the investigation at the scene of a crime.

The Six questions have helped Stephen Brookes throughout his various careers and, more recently, he has used this successfully in determining research objectives.  In the Selfless Leader, the six Intelligent Leadership Questions (ILQs) are used to both explore and explain leadership behaviours.  In this first section, we use the six ILQs to explore what is meant by ‘Selfless Leadership’.

As you progress through this e-learning platform so you will get to know how to use these six ILQs in improving your leadership practice and those whom you lead.

Six Intelligent Leadership Questions to describe Selfless Leadership

the WHAT question
The WHAT of selfless leadership is a collective vision.

This is the first intelligent leadership question. The explicit theme and style of selfless leadership is that leadership is the property of a community and not that of an individual. Selflessness is a quality that is often lacking across most cultures and institutions, as opposed to self-centred impulses. Selfless Leadership is the central concept of the collective nature of compass leadership. It concerns leading-in-the-round.

Selfless leadership leads for all and not just the selected few or, indeed for the individual leaders’ own ego or motivations. Selfless leaders are the right people who do the right things, for the right reason, in the right way for the right people and in the right places. Accountability will be the defining foundation for assessing if selfless leaders achieve these commendable principles.

The WHERE question
The where of leadership is everywhere!

Leadership takes place across networks within the context of complex and adaptive systems. Selfless leadership seeks to enable and empower others to engage in collective leadership through all levels of the institution or networks.

Selfless leaders should create a space for adaptive leadership activity by the creation of a holding environment. This could be either a physical or virtual space in which adaptive work can be done through relationships. Leaders can then consider both time and perspective and achieve a balance between both the strategic direction and operational activity. This is what Heifetz calls ‘getting on to the balcony’ [1].

[1] HEIFETZ, R. A. 1994. Leadership without easy answers, Cambridge, Mass. ; London, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

The WHY question
Leaders serve the public good

Leadership is purposeful in that defines the vision and how practice aims to achieve the outcomes of the vision. The individual will always be at the core of leadership practice, but it is the motivation that will drive the leader’s actions.

The purpose (or the ‘why’) of selfless leadership is that leaders put the wider interests of those who they lead above their own interests. Selfless leadership brings together a range of value-based leadership practices and theories. Although not exhaustive, this includes relational, empathic, authentic, empowering, spiritual and ethical leadership.

A selfless leader values truth across their lives and character. As such, they bring these values into their leadership. This build absolute trust with all whom they interact with.

The WHEN question
The time for leadership is now.

The time for leadership is now! The only constant in life is change and leadership needs to be forever adaptive to the broader changes that are taking place and impacting on the operating environment. Selfless leaders are in the game for the long haul. Eventually, selfless leaders leave a lasting and positive institutional and social legacy.

They influence people by their continued leadership and demonstrable commitment to the endgame. The payback will be considerable, but this will be by means of an honoured reputation. Successful selfless leaders’ achievements will be emulated long into the future. Short term gains are important but long-term patience is a virtue. This approach will define the difference between expedient outputs and socially desirable outcomes.

[1] All is flux, nothing stays still (Heraclitus Greek philosopher)

The "HOW" Question
The How question is the Modus Operandi of Leadership

The modus operandi (the means adopted) identifies and bridges the gap between the vision and the socially desired outcomes through intelligence-led approaches. Selfless leadership aims to transform the vision to achieve outcomes in a manner that is both ethical and authentic. All aspects of leadership are linked. Success will be influenced by the extent to which dynamic interactions take place.

The practice of selfless leadership is therefore supported by the process of “Leading through 360° Intelligent Networks, Knowledge and Skills.” [1]

In developing leaders our process promotes an Applied Leadership Challenge (ALC). The aim of ALCs is to align a collective vision for leading in the public interest. ALCs apply learning to practice through intelligent leadership within complex network contexts and at all levels of leadership. The process balances challenge with a climate which supports constructive dissent. Selfless leaders will welcome constructive criticism and actively promote the cultural acceptance for this alongside the feedback channels.

[1] LINKS360® is a registered trademark owned and licensed by Compass Leadership Limited and supports the frameworks and inventories outlined throughout its activities.

The WHO question
Those who are closest to the problem are more likely to solve them

Selfless leadership includes the importance of individual leadership development and practice but embracing and building this within the collective. The role of the selfless leader is to ask the intelligent question and then enable and empower collective others to add to this question and to come up with solutions. Those who are closest to the problem are more likely to solve them.

Having set the question, selfless leaders will first ask of themselves and their teams, the intelligent question. For example, “what is the right thing to do?” and then, “how best can we achieve this?” Achieving the outcome in a way that is consistent with shared values drives the team’s collective ambition and goals. Selfless leadership engenders trust by relinquishing control and granting freedom to every team member to take necessary action. Risk management is proportionate, and every effort is made to avoid bureaucratic obstacles and data paralysis.


Guidance and Topic Summaries



Welcome to the Selfless Leader Portal.  The aim is to provide you with a range of support in helping you to understand leadership and how this improved understanding will assist you in improving your leadership practice.  It matters not what level of leadership you work at or what your current level of understanding is.  This first page provides you with a glimpse of some of the essential elements of leadership generally and selfless leadership specifically.  This integrated suite of web resources is structured at three levels:

Number 1

The first level provides you with a basic understanding of leadership and gives you a very brief insight as to the essential components of selfless leadership; what this means, how it puts the public interest at the heart of what leaders do and how you can develop your own leadership style.   You start within this initial guidance page. Alongside this guidance, each of the main sections are summarised in the tabs to the left.  If you click on each of the tabs you will get a flavour for the key learning points of these sections. Each of the tabs also provide links to the different levels, starting with a direct link to three e-learning interactions with an average length of 3 minutes and non any longer than 5 mins. This will give you a short cut to some of the key learning points through creative but short e-learning media (these are also accessible through the level 2 pages below).

At the second level, you have the opportunity to ‘drill down’ further into the various sections of the portal, starting at the level 2 pages.  Click each tab in the top menu  to open each of the six pages. Read in order starting with ‘reimagine’ at the left. The learning is simple and straight forward and you can complete your reading at this level within one to two hours. There is a link to take you to a ‘more reading …’ section. You will then be able to consider organisational aspects of change in terms of renewing and reviewing change and the important aspects of leading reform. The level 2 pages each provide a further link that provides access to the Knowledge and Practice Hub (see below for the third level). At this second level you should be able to complete your reading within four to six hours.

At the third level, you are given the option to register to gain access to the Knowledge and Practice Hub.  This is a detailed and comprehensive resource bank which provides more detail researched and commentary about selfless leadership as a form of leading in the public interest.  The Collective Leadership approach underpins our approach.  By registering, you will have access to interactive resources and scenarios.  We also encourage you to take part in the selfless leadership discussion forum to share knowledge.

PLEASE NOTE:  If you are registered on a formal leadership development programme with Compass Leadership Limited, in addition to the Knowledge and Practice Hub, your learning and development will be supported by our dedicated Virtual Learning Environment (or Digital Campus).  This is built on the Moodle Platform and provides comprehensive online support for your learning from design through to delivery and assessment, including peer led applied leadership challenge groups.



This section provides a brief outline of the history of leadership.  You are taken on a hitchhikers guide of 4,000 years of thinking and writing about leadership.  We start with the Old World Leaders (the “OWLs”), progress to the New World Leaders (the “NWLs”) and then finally consider the Global World Leaders (the “GWLs”).


From the Classics … to … New World … and Global Leaders

Old World Leaders (OWLS)
Leadership has taken place since humans first walked this earth. Our analysis starts with the classics dating from 2000 bc through to the turn of the 18th/19th century. It includes Aristotle through to those of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

New World Leaders
New World Leaders date from the beginning of the industrial revolution. Strong influencers included new approaches to management including F.W. Taylors’ Scientific Management which had a profound effect on the way in which managers engaged with workers.

Global World Leaders
GWLs are not necessarily global in the sense of global empires but, rather, global in the sense of a greater openness to learning, the sharing of ideas and in leading a shrinking world.

From Individual to Collective Leadership

Leading together through shared values

After many years of practising and studying leadership, Stephen Brookes had been musing over the problem of individual versus collective leadership approaches. He eventually coined the phrase public leadership – as a form of collective leadership. The term was based on his research over some ten years which studied both public and community leadership within multi-agency partnership working. Collective leadership is defined as a “form of leadership based on shared values for achieving impact in the public interest, rather than individual leadership based on self-interest.

Number 1 There are three brief E-learning Nuggets (max. 15 mins for all) which introduce you to a brief history of leadership (providing  you with a summary of the distinction between OWLs, NWLs and GWLs), why we need to reimagine and how to reflect and review new ideas. Across all three nuggets we use the six Intelligent Leadership Questions as our framework for inquiry.
In this E-learning Activity, you can explore more about the three different periods of leadership thinking and why and how we need to reimagine our leadership style from an individual to a collective style. We delve further into the anatomy of collective leaders and illustrate how this can make a difference for leading in the public interest.
An E-learning Session provides a more comprehensive analysis of the different periods of thinking and literature concerning leadership majoring on the collective leadership approach. The following sessions provide the opportunity for aligning the learning with blended learning programmes focused on collective leadership as a new way of thinking and applying leadership.
Click to the right if you wish to choose to read more about this subject.


Taking a Leap into the Unknown

Complexity as a maze

Leadership is complex.  A characteristic of complexity is that it is unlikely that the issues or problems underpinning it are likely to be fully resolved. In this sense, it shares these characteristics with those of wicked problems. There are various three-dimensional approaches to leadership. In this brief summary we look at the major triad:

The Basic Dimensions of Leadership 3

New World Leaders
The first dimension defines a critical purpose of Leadership3. This is to make the unknown known! To do this, we need to discover patterns. Once leaders have established the patterns, proactive and coactive responses are thus possible.

New World Leaders
The second dimension takes account of the capacity of the organisation to achieve its purpose and the capabilities of its people to deliver the product or service. Similarly, this ranges from the known capacities and capabilities through to the unknowns.

New World Leaders
The third dimension defines the collective leadership style. This ranges from the individual to distributed and ultimately shared leadership. Shared leadership is appllied across different disciplines with a common purpose.


Aligning the Three Dimensions

These three dimensions are important in supporting the organisations efforts to improve services and products through transformational leadership.   Transformational leadership requires teams to work together towards a common purpose.  This is what we describe as synergy.  Drawing on the work of Buckminster Fuller, this is an exploratory strategy of starting with the whole and the known behaviour of some of its parts and then progressively discovering the integral unknowns.  We support this by using the complementary process of cybernetics which is the study of control or regulation mechanisms in both human and machine systems.  A key feature is that all systems (apart from the Universe) are created by humans.  They are thus fallible!

This process of looking at the whole and its constituent parts represents the approach more commonly known as complex adaptive systems.  If we get this right it helps us to understand the characteristics of both transformational leadership and innovation and creativity.  Managing risk is an important element of this but the tipping point – we suggest – is moving beyond the known knowns and focusing our attention on the unknowns.  Breaking boundaries and reinventing the core business will often be required.

Number 1 Explore three brief E-learning Nuggets that consider two dimensions; leadership styles and tackling the unknowns.  The first suggests moving from fallible (ego-driven) leadership to collective (full leadership). The second is a brief video which explains how to build full leadership, and the third suggests why we need to extend our thinking to tackling the unknown unknowns in creating innovation.
This E-learning Activity walks you through the contexts for rethinking leadership, our approach to three dimensions of leadership based on responding to chaos and complexity. Authentic leaders are true to themselves and others. You will have access to a 2-minute video in which Stephen Brookes talks you through the three dimensions of Leadership3
This E-learning Session offers a more comprehensive analysis of our Leadership3 model, which underpins our reimagined leadership approaches based on the presenting problem, capacity and capability and leadership styles. 60 minute Sessions
Click to the right if you wish to choose to read more about this subject.

Reinventing Leadership

We stand on the shoulders of giants but our aim is to build beyond our horizons.  Reimagining is about hope and desire – what we do as individuals and what the organisation wants to achieve.

The Context of Leadership is about people, places and systems

In leading collectively, we move from the focus of the individual to groups of individuals.  Groups are individuals, which is why relationships are at the heart of leading collectively.  The focus is on both people and systems who will lead and practice within places.

The Challenge is to create a balance between the dynamics of relationships and the interactions between systems.  Remember always that – apart from the Universe and Nature – all systems are created by humans.  They will also be fallible.

Number 1 Three five-minute interactive e-learning nuggets respectively explore how to put relationships first, understand the anatomy of collective leadership and understand the dynamic influences in getting people to say “Yes” – because they want to do it.
In this E-learning Activity, you will consider why we need to move from reimagining to reinventing leadership by focusing on collective rather than individual leadership.  Influence is a key factor in this transition.  The session includes a 15-minute activity in which Stephen Brookes narrates and leads you through the New Public Leadership Framework, our conceptual foundation for reinventing leadership.
An E-learning Session introduces you to a more comprehensive journey in reinventing your leadership.  Introducing the New Public Leadership Framework, it leads you through the essentials of understanding how the contexts of leadership influence the mechanisms which will lead to public interest outcomes.
Click to the right if you wish to choose to read more about this subject.

Renewing Leadership for Continuous Improvement

The process of developing selfless leadership has already gone through a number of stages. We now look at the need to renew our approaches, having considered where we have been and where we want to go on our leadership journey. Renewing leadership values is critical to this stage of the process.  This renewal includes the alignment of shared values with the practice (the how?) of leadership.


From Action to Reaction and Result

Understanding the How? of Leadership

In simple terms, ‘Quomodo’ defines the manner or the way in which practice takes place in achieving public interest outcomes and the means adopted. It thus directly addresses the two important ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions of selfless leadership. It also assists in clarifying the ‘what’, identifying the ‘who’, defining the ‘where’ and determining the when.

The Selfless Leader (SL) briefly touched on the term quomodo in helping to define how leadership is practised and the manner in which this is done. It drew upon its’ original interrogative framework encompassing the SL’s six intelligent leadership questions (ILQs), influenced by Rudyard Kipling’s six honest serving men.  You will recall that the ILQ framework was introduced at the outset of this portal.

Number 1 These three E-learning Nuggets help to describe the best and the worst of leadership approaches, providing support for responding to the question: “How do we do this”. It suggests putting people first (PPF) as a critical foundation for taking action. The second nugget explores the cutting edge of contemporary leadership thinking. The third nugget focuses briefly on leadership as a value-laden activity. The ultimate value is to lead in the public interest.
In this E-learning Activity, we focus primarily on our concept of the Leadership Quomodo, briefly explaining its importance in asking how action can be taken, building on the relationships with people, places and the complexity of systems surrounding us.
A comprehensive session that directly unpicks the idea of our ‘MO’ (Quomodo) of leadership. It provides detailed guidance on how to lead collectively and selflessly using tried and tested means of problem-solving, influencing skills and decision-making.
Click to the right if you wish to choose to read more about this subject.


collective leadership is key to success


Impression of share knowledge


Getting the right skills in the right places

Reforming Leadership

To reform is to introduce change with a view to encouraging product or service improvement. In this section, we draw intelligence, knowledge and skills together within a collective leadership scenario. Our LINKS360 approach encourages you to think about leadership in a different way. Thinking about leadership in a different way promises to help in shifting away from individual (and often selfish motivations) to collective (more selfless) leadership. We need to re-imagine leadership, a point that we made strongly in our earlier sessions on the meaning and application of collective leadership. In this section, we share with you our practical approach to reform based on reimagination and rethinking, reinventing and renewing our understanding of what it takes to lead in the service of others.

Aligning Intelligence, Knowledge and Skills across Collective Networks

collective leadership is key to success

Number 1 Three E-learning Nuggets will lead you through processes of how to avoid a leadership deficit through shared values, supported by Applied Leadership Challenges and in encouraging mutual accountability.
In this E-learning Activity, you will explore more about leading through 360 Intelligent Networks, Knowledge and Skills supported by Adaptive Leadership.  This includes a 20 minute video narrated and illustrated by Stephen Brookes.
This E-learning Session takes you through a more detailed account of the LINKS360 approach and values-based adaptive leadership.  It provides a route to learning how to navigate our 360O leadership networks, knowledge and skills.
Click to the right if you wish to choose to read more about this subject.

Reviewing all-round Collective


How do we assess whether the sum of the Whole is greater than its’ parts?

The starting point of reviewing collective leadership is to review the practices of leadership from its collective vision. From the starting point of a shared and collective vision we progress through an analysis of the collective leaders shared outcomes and how these differ at the different levels of leadership. The practice (or its Quomodo) is to work in partnership across networks applying intelligent leadership through applied knowledge and the application of skills. The key to success in turning vision into reality is to adapt and respond to new information or intelligence.




Different levels of review and assessment

Accountability and leadership will be perceived as legitimate through debate as well as practice. If debate leads to legitimacy then practice leads to authenticity which itself is a measure as to how well the leadership is accepted by those who are led and those who are impacted by the leadership. Both can only be assessed through effective governance. The relationship between leadership and governance is illustrated in figure 2 by means of legitimacy. Accountability represents the alignment of debate (what we say we do) and practice (what we actually do). If accountability is an outcome of leadership then legitimacy is the outcome of accountability.

Holistic Assessment

Combining Individual and Collective Leadership Assessment

If accountable leadership is to be perceived as legitimate, frameworks should consider both individual and institutional performance, and to explore potential biases – whether conscious or unconscious. Bias, especially unconscious) often emerges and those who are adversely affected struggle to hold the institution accountable for the challenges that they face in socially determined contexts. Two examples are race (from a wider social perspective), and workplace bullying/lateral violence (within the institution).


A review which we carried out of the literature, has identified a highly important component of accountability, but which was considered to be missing within the leadership of teams, that of mutual accountability in which members of successful teams pitch in and become accountable with and to their teammates.

This process of looking at the whole and its constituent parts represents the approach more commonly known as complex adaptive systems.  If we get this right it helps us to understand the characteristics of both transformational leadership and innovation and creativity.  Managing risk is an important element of this but the tipping point – we suggest – is moving beyond the known knowns and focusing our attention on the unknowns.  Breaking boundaries and reinventing the core business will often be required.

Number 1 The final three nuggets for our Selfless Leader Web Portal provide brief descriptions of the unique 3600 Collective Leadership Inventory based on seven collective leadership values and 30 behaviours, our Evaluation Model and our approaches to understanding how accountability and management is assured by the leadership.
This introduction to leading in the round outlines how collective leadership represents a shared and distributed activity and how this is reviewed through the 3600 mentioned above. It outlines how governance is refined for collective leadership and how accountability can be assured.
This E-learning Session offers a more detailed account of the Collective Leadership Model with a full description of the seven collective leadership values and 30 collective behaviours.  You will be introduced to the Collective Leadership Inventory which seeks to assess and improve multi-level and multi-led activities.
Click to the right if you wish to choose to read more about this subject.

Learning Periods

Number 1Brief snippets and E-Learning Nuggets: An average of 3 mins but no more than 5 mins per nugget, providing a brief summary only.

At this second level you should be able to complete your reading within four to six hours in total and no one activity is more than 30 minutes. Each activity at this level is described as an E-Learning Activity: a standalone activity comprising either/both text and interactive scenarios. You will have the opportunity to view a demonstration of resources at this level, but you will be required to register with us to gain full access as an online fellow.

 This is a more structured and detailed Blended Learning Session focused on the relevant subject matter.  There is also an option to take part in a leadership discussion forum to share knowledge. If you are enrolled on a leadership development programme this learning will also be incorporated within our Virtual Learning Environment (Digital Campus) through the Knowledge and Practice Hub (registration required). An average of 60 minutes per session.

Continue (if logged in)

selfless-leader-knowledge-hubGo to the Knowledge Hub

CLICK HERE to go to the Knowledge Hub.    This will give you access to the resources within the Hub.

If y0u are a registered user, you can use the link below to go to the main menu options.  If you are also participating in a programme with Compass Leadership Limited whether individually or in partnership with your organisation, the Knowledge Hub is also linked to our Total Learning Consortium Virtual Learning Environment

The Selfless Leader