ANSWERING THE CALL TO LEAD
We need to hear and answer a call to lead, therefore, to raise our hands and take on responsibility formally for at least some part of the lives of others. This requires us to have the courage of our conviction, despite the nagging doubts that all worthy leaders have that they are (as if by paradox) not worthy, not up to the challenge. We need to have the faith in ourselves that we can, to paraphrase the American leadership writer Jim Collins, go from good to great. To do this, we need to have in us both the humility to recognise that it is not all about us, the willpower to see the mission through, and the capacity to bridge the apparently irreconcilable difference between the two.
If our calling to lead is nested within a deep inner desire to strive for greatness for our community, what kind of leader do we want to nurture? We believe that, despite its periodic recurrence, the leadership that best responds to our present condition, and which might best prepare us for our future, is less likely to be a charismatic, populist style. We look for leaders who will be authentic, who will listen to people and who are imbued with a pervading drive to serve others before themselves. We all tend to tire quickly of those who dictate to us how we should fit in and we admire those who can personalise the collective experience for all of us. We all feel part of something and yet we all wish to be seen as special. So, we respond more readily to those who seek to empower the individuality that we express and, at the same time, draw us together into a genuine collective effort. We approve of those who can make us feel part of something bigger while at the same time celebrating our distinctiveness.
Leadership is not a prize; it is an opportunity to influence individuals, groups and culture. This is a moral matter as much as it is a practical matter. It requires us take a stand on the nature of humanity, and thus on what is required to realise that humanity more fully, through social and institutional arrangements we make for its delivery. We should always want our community to be a place that seeks to clear the obstacles and allows all, regardless of their challenges, to unfold their gifts and abilities with confidence and a knowledge that they are welcome and worthy of our full embrace. Ultimately, it is in this quest to become better in pursuit of that which is good and right in leadership that we gain a true sense of ourselves as part of a community, our commitment to it and each other and the potential for these to lead towards our shared achievements through a common sense of what defines us and drives us on – our values, our mission, our culture, and our people.
It could be said that human being is human communion. It is though relationship with others that the “I” comes into being. The nature and character of these relationships will affect an individual’s capacity to fulfil his or her personhood. Maturity involves a constant struggle with personal integrity. It is a journey, a pilgrimage, rather than a static point of being. This struggle is a creative enterprise and ceasing to struggle leads to disintegration. We begin our struggle for excellence by following. There are no “born leaders”. We start by following our parents, our brothers and sisters, older children we know at school and in our community. Later, we follow teachers, coaches, managers, mentors. Eventually, writers and historic figures enter our lives as leaders and we follow them. And then somewhere along the line, whether we realise it or not, people start following us. We become leaders — all of us.
Leadership development is, therefore, an ongoing process. When we step into this process, we need to aim to be the very best we can be at leading and learning within a discourse that is built on asking and answering questions. Rather than predetermining people as “leaders” or “non-leaders”, we believe that all people can learn and grow in ways that make them more effective in the various leadership roles and processes they take on. Consequent to this, leaders should situate themselves within a mode that values the dignity, worth and contributions of others, that shows respect for people, culture and place, and that delivers the results that the community want and expect. As a consequence, leaders need to identify readily that their mandate and their activity both need to be circumscribed by what is best for their communities, as opposed to being focused in an unseemly fashion on that which will promote their own interests and fuel their ambitions for power, prestige, or material gain.
At the same time, in seeking to exercise an agency which is based on sharing and optimising the contributions of all towards the preferred future, leaders must be careful to avoid:
- The tyranny of niceness: The tendency towards an easy likability that prevents the sharing of pure thought and unfiltered truth
- The tyranny of self-deprecation: The false modesty that prevents the sharing of the leader’s gifts of effective leadership
- The tyranny of harmony: The avoidance of constructive conflict that prevents the sharing of boldness, risk-taking and innovation inherent in change
This of course demands of us a particular type of courage. Courage is a quality that shapes a person’s character. It is not a magical quality, nor is it necessarily a natural disposition. Courage is essential in great leadership. This is because leadership inherently effects change in order to obtain some desired future condition that would not otherwise happen. Most people want progress in the first instance as long as they do not have to change very much to get it. It takes courage to expect of people that they need to, should and can grow in character over time in order to get to where they need to on The Pathway To Excellence. This inherently means the growth of the whole person in their structured moral agency. It refers to how people live their lives in terms of the fulfilment of their obligations to others, their potential, and their fundamental beliefs about what is good and right for them to do. It is a multi- layered idea that refers to the mark and measure of a person, a notion that encompasses their characteristics and idiosyncrasies, the extent of their resilience and robustness, and their capacity to model and lead through their virtues and qualities.
This process of personal development that improves leader effectiveness is what leadership development is all about. A community needs processes that it follows to identify and nurture leadership. In these, all people should learn about, observe and have an opportunity to practise and refine their leadership skills and insights. When we answer the call to lead, we commit ourselves to enable others to achieve their individual hopes and dreams as well as working together to realise our collective vision. When we lead well, exceptional achievement is possible. And in the end, we need to make sure that we leave a worthy and enduring legacy behind, one where we have taught our successors what we know so that excellence and leadership does not end with us. In other words, our personal process of leadership development must move beyond our own competency to consider how best to shape the character and competencies of others as leaders on The Pathway to Excellence.
LOCATING LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN OUR LIVES
In the end, we believe that everyone can learn and achieve success in a formal program of leadership development by:
- Building their leadership development program – how you manage your process of enrolment or entry into a program of leadership development and how you design it to match your best understanding about what you enjoy and what you are good at doing
- Adopting an approach to establishing and maintaining their leadership development progress – how you set goals and create personal habits that will result in a routine that is more likely to help you to meet program requirements and achieve the results that you deserve
- Working through the best ways to boost their disposition towards leadership – how you make specific choices about what you will and will not do to maintain a positive approach towards taking responsibility for your learning in your leadership development program
- Locating their development as leaders within a practical approach to their leadership qualifications – how you place what you are learning and achieving in your leadership development program within the context of what you will need to maximise your choices later in your life