For years, authors have been dissecting the idea of leadership; from Bennis and Nanus (1985) to Kouzes and Posner (1988, 1993); from Peters and Austin (1985) to Peters and Waterman (1982); and finally to Senge (1990) scholars and consultants alike have bantered about what leadership is. While many have attempted to move from a hierarchical perspective of leadership toward a more collaborative notion, they still maintain a theoretical bias toward hierarchy in which positional authority wrests power and control over the organization. In maintaining the hierarchical bias, they also maintain confusion between what a leader does, with what leadership is. Many authors and practitioners alike have offered descriptors in conjunction with the word leadership in an attempt to clarify the difference between what a leader does and the essence of leadership. The descriptors include, but are not limited to: participatory leadership, collaborative leadership and effective leadership, to name but a few.
While it appears that many authors and practitioners are beginning to distinguish the idea of leading from the idea of leadership, most authors and practitioners’ purview remains one of the centrality of leadership residing, ultimately, with one positional authority figure. This idea was noticeable most recently when I was invited to participate in a symposium at the University of San Francisco on Leadership and Law Enforcement. While a common theme of relationship as being an essential part of leadership emerged among the participants of the symposium, it was of no great surprise that most of the speakers and participants in the leadership panel, while emphasizing the importance of relationships within the idea of leadership, still held on to the conventional perspective that leadership exists in the actions of positional authority: this is to say that the stories told by the participants, along with the descriptions of the leadership that was happening in their agencies, focused on what one person or a certain group does to others. It focused around what the “leader” (read positional authority figure) did.
Many of the participants were challenged by the prescriptive versus the descriptive nature of leadership. For most, the great man/woman — charismatic ideas of leadership prevailed; their emphasis focused on how positional authority figures developed relationships in order to get, more effectively, the product or service out the door. This is to say the underlying values-set that seemed to be reinforced was that of the industrial model where power is centrally located in one person (or group) from which any change and real decisions emanate. It seemed that among the participants of the symposium the idea of developing relationships became another buzzword with very little substance.read full article »