Leadership: confusing role with skill

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Just back from the Leicester Conference 2011. A very rich experience, with much to ponder on and digest. However there were some moments of insight, and i plan to share some of these over the next few weeks. I’ll start with something very practical – clarification of leadership role and skill.

At Leicester, in many of the groups I participated in there was competition for leadership: specifically the leadership role. In one of the groups I was in, we heard the children outside in the garden calling out, ‘I’ll be number one’ to which others replied, ‘No! I’ll be number one!’ We dissolved in laughter as this was evidently what was also happening in the room, albeit in more subtle ways!

At one point it became clear that we were confusing role with skill. That the clamour for power, recognition and authority, by becoming a battle, was in effect preventing leadership skill being expressed in the group.

One group I was part of didn’t have the ‘fight’ for control. Not that we avoided it, we made a decision not to fight for control. This made space for leadership skill to flourish across the group. It was striking to me how much more effective this group was at utilising it’s resources, and getting tasks done. Of course there were tensions, but the group seemed able to navigate these. Another aspect of this group was that individuals, pairs and trio’s were able to work together on tasks, maximising the productivity of the group. Also, this group was very creative – coming up with both practical ideas and also a very interesting hypothesis on latent and manifest tasks which I’ll share in another blog post.

Leadership is BOTH a position in the hierarchy, AND an activity within a social system. However if we can clarify the role of leadership – who’s in charge for a specific task or area or responsibility, AND this role leader is secure in themselves, then more leadership skill and creativity will flourish, enabling the group to work cohesively and productively towards it’s primary task.

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