During a recently concluded course called 'Leadership and Excellence' a number of thought provoking questions came up. Some of the popular ones revolved around the various leadership styles, roles, leader follower relations etc. but in my opinion, the most powerful question in terms of its impact was regarding the best leadership style. At the beginning of the course, I oberved that everyone beleived to recognise what a good leader should be like, but as the module went along and after a number of role play exercises a number of further questions began making the picture more....complex.
-Isn't a leader who lets his team decide the course of action the most effective?
-But what if the followers aren't effective decision makers? Doesn't that mean the leader should discount democracy and do what he thinks is best since he is most experienced?
- What if all members in the team are more than capable of leading and have the necessary experience to be good leaders, what then? who should lead? more importantly, however, how should he/she lead?
The truth, as we eventually discovered, was that there is no single best way to lead, nor is leadership a trait that exists only within a select few individuals. Infact, all of us are born leaders, and throughout our lives at various points in time we have infact, knowingly or unknowingly, exhibited traits of leadership.
So...what now? should we throw away all research that focuses on identifying leaders in different categories and disregard all HR practices? Well...not really. Its not about neglecting what we know, its more about understanding what we cannot understand AND what we have chosen not to deliberate upon thus far.
As it turned out during the exercises, most people didn't realise that they had the potential to lead. They had it naturally within them, they just never realised it. Its like a case with diamonds, they coexist underneath raw unrefined coal, and need to be extracted and polished to realise their true worth. Leadership potential is similar to diamonds in the sense that it exists in everyone, its just that for some people that potential is closer to the surface and these people find it easier to extract their potential when and where needed. For others, it requires more investment in terms of time and effort to locate the potential and to bring it to surface. Nonetheless, in both cases, the extracted diamonds shine bright once they are extracted, refined, polished, and put on display for the world to see.
What this means for practice is that effective leadership depends on the context and nature of the task at hand. In a sense, it relies on the idea of best fit to the task and team at hand. All leadership styles hold merits and are most effective in certain situations than others. This means that for an organisation, it is important to maintain a healthy pool of diverse leadership styles so that those leaders can guide the organisation through the multitude of challenges that it may face, and make sure that the leaders also realise their own potential and are given the adequate resources and backing to polish themselves even further. This does however indicate towards the idea that "management" of people is sometimes a negative practice as it restricts the potential that the employee is allowed to exhibit. On a larger organisational scale, this will eventually mean that by design, you are forcing the employees to fail because they are not doing what they're good at.
As for individuals working together, a common saying goes like "greatness recognises greatness". For me, this means that great leaders are those who recognise the potential in each other and decide to learn from each other in order to alleviate to a higher level, rather than to feel threatened from each others existance and try to demean each other to hinder the other's perfomance.
So, my recommendation to you (the reader) is: recognise leaders around you, figure out what the do best, learn from them, teach them what you know, give feedback, grow together and repeat the cycle with the next person you meet in life because...well eveyone is a leader.