Reimagine Leadership for a new dawnStephen Brookes
The discussion explores why we need to reimagine leadership. It begins by exploring the way in which leadership thinking has progressed through the ages. As we get to the current time we will look at how leadership needs to be reimagined and reinvented. To reimagine leadership in the context of the global pandemic and the subsequent lockdown will be essential. Take part in our discussions and follow the journey!
Reimagine leadership by unpicking the black box!
We need to take a leap into the unknown! This is the gist (and first dimension) of this unique approach to the development of 21st century leadership. In doing this we look for patterns, predicting, problem solving and then demonstrating success. We stand on the shoulders of giants. This provides the cumulative knowledge from many generations in the advancement of science specifically and knowledge more generally. Our greatest human skills lie in our capacity to innovate and create new things. But we need to explore new ideas and turn the unknowns into knowing, knowledge and ultimately, wisdom.
A second dimension concerns our capability (as individuals) and our capacity (as organisations and wider institutions) to make a difference. The aim is to make a collective difference rather than for self-fulfilment. Exploring problems that we do not know exist yet is possible. Acknowledging that they are likely to exist (now) or will exist (in the future) will help us to do this. Tried-and-tested methods of leadership knowledge and self-development are not going to help us to get there. We need to break boundaries here also.
The third dimension concerns our leadership style. Ever since humans first walked this earth, individual leadership traits and styles have predominated. These individual approaches to leadership have always been important and always will be. Collective leadership, however, is the only way that the misuse of individual position or authority can be mitigated. Most important is to create shared ability to encourage and empower collective others to step up to the plate. Transformational leadership will mitigate toxic and poorly defined pseudo-transformational leadership. This ranges from individual through to distributed and – ultimately – shared leadership. Value-based, relational leadership draw these styles together.
This sounds like a tall order …. but bear with me! History allows us to define what leadership is and to help in understanding its strengths and weaknesses. We can draw on both natural and human systems to help us in reimagining leadership. Reimagination can create a new and sustainable approach to collective leadership development. Leadership will then focus on the public good and leading in the public interest.
We will start where it all started – the natural universe!
Consider leadership as a whole system where the sum of its whole is greater than its individual parts. You will, no doubt, have heard this phrase before. The notion of open systems in organisational studies has been around for a long time, certainly from the 1960s onwards.
Elsewhere, I talk about Buckminster Fuller who said that the natural universe is the only true system. Systems are not just confined to organisations; it also applies to the leadership of organisations and networks. Taking this approach, we need to acknowledge that we can learn from the natural universe. The approach will only work if there is an acceptance that we – as human beings – are fallible. We need to understand that there is no such thing as the perfect embodiment of a leader. If we as humans create all systems except the universe then these human constructions will always be fallible.
Buckminster Fuller is the founding father of synergetics and Fuller took his inspiration from the Universe. He identified a range of governing geometric principles to help us to identify what it is that sustains a system. Elsewhere I introduce the concepts of synergetic and cybernetics which were introduced by Buckminster Fuller and Norman Weiner respectively. In uniquely applying this to the study and practice of leadership it helps in understanding the complexity of organisations. Leaders will then be in a stronger position to lead more collectively.
Time as a currency of leadership
I consider leadership in trios of concepts, such as that of the three dimensions described earlier. At the most abstract level I look at three periods in which broad schools of thoughts have emerged. This took place over the 70,000 – 100,000 years that humans have existed as pattern-seekers with the benefit of intelligence. The ability to identify patterns and the capacity to invent is hugely important Baron-Cohen (2020: 12). It is this ability that sets us apart from animals.
The first epoch is what I describe as the ‘Old World Leaders’ (the OWLs). Leadership theories began their journey with our OWLs focused on the innate qualities of an individual. The ‘old world’ ranges from the classic Greek philosophers through to the turn of the 19th/20th century. New forms of leadership would be likely to ‘stretch’ the capability and capacity of our OWLs.
The second epoch is what I describe as the ‘New World Leaders’ (the NWLS). The Enlightenment and the Renaissance brought new challenges to the NWLs. This was then followed by the onslaught of modernity and industrialisation. We saw the emergence of scientific management.
The third epoch represents our current period with the Global World Leaders (the GWLs). Global World Leaders (GWLs) lead in a post-modern, post-industrial and more chaotic world. Global leadership is characterised by complexity.
Time is thus one of the main currencies of leadership.
Reimagine leadership for the future
The individual nature of leadership was the dominant approach for the OWLs. For example, Thomas Carlyle introduced 19th-century thinking that history is influenced by the leadership of great men (Carlyle, 1840). This led to the ‘great man theory of leadership’ which was highly influential. With the coming of a New Order (the NWLs), leadership evolved from the individual. Behaviours adopted, situations in which leadership took place and leadership that was specific to particular functions became prominent. These theories have their place, but arguably they tend to ignore leaderships’ important dynamics within a context of uncertainty.
Even today, the ‘individual’ is the focus of most leadership studies. From earliest times, theories have focused on what it is that makes individuals good leaders. We need to think differently and to reimagine leadership in different contexts
If you want to read more about how thinking and theories of leadership have evolved then CLICK HERE to read how we are building from the past.
Baron-Cohen, S. A. (2020) The pattern seekers : a new theory of human invention, Penguin Books Ltd.
Carlyle, T. (1840) On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. [S.l.]: Chapman and Hall.
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