Leadership is a shared process, it follows that its development must be social in nature

Written by Meena Thuraisingham, Director and Principal, TalentInvest, Jan 2011

A leader is not a leader unless they have followers. And increasingly the only model of leadership that is truly sustainable is one where leadership is more broadly distributed such as the John Lewis Partnership, Google or W L Gore models of distributed leadership.

Despite this our preoccupation with the Heroic Model of leadership (the many prolific books on individual leaders must take some blame for this) has shown up the scores of heroic leaders that come and go quickly, in many cases leaving debris that others have had to clean up after them.

Leadership is a shared process – one borne of collective instinct and sustained by collaborative processes around a collective purpose.

Despite this, much of the practices of developing leaders in organisations today have not changed in years, even decades. Much of it is content heavy, based on an individualised notion of leadership and driven by achieving individual mastery in a set of competencies. It assumes that leadership resides in one person, one role and as such is far too individually focused, perhaps even elitist in its flavour. It ignores the reality that leadership is in fact a collective process and in many organisations is spread through a network of people who make those many “moments of truth” happen where and where it counts.  Additionally the development of leaders focuses on the ‘what’ of leadership rather than the ‘how’….and the ‘how’ is a shared and collective process. For example it assumes that if you have a good leadership model in which leader behaviours are explicitly defined, that leaders will know what they have to do to change and then make that change. It ignores the reality that a leader is an ‘echo-catcher’ of a broader collective culture and that no matter how individually skilled a leader becomes there is unlikely to be real change until it is collectively reinforced and embedded.  So leaders continue to attend great training programs and come back invigorated and then it all fizzles out because this kind of content heavy training is not sustainable.

Written by Meena Thuraisingham
Director and Principal, Talent Invest

Meena Thuraisingham is a consultant, author, executive coach and thought leader in the area of People and Culture. An organisational psychologist by training, she founded TalentInvest, a niche consulting practice, advising global clients in the UK, Asia and Australia in Capability and Culture. Meena is also a regular speaker internationally on leadership effectiveness and culture change.

Her published books are The Secret Life of Decisions, Careers Unplugged and Derailed!. Get Your Copy Today