Last week while reading A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Leadership, I became struck by the concluding sentences in Chapter 5 (Critical and Distributed Perspectives on Leadership), “We remain more concerned with the ends of leadership rather than its means. This is why we still continue to find ways of invigorating the existing leader-centric models of leadership and to refine and bolster follower-centric models of leadership by means of maintain a healthy democratic counterbalance” (p. 111).
Really? I don’t believe Jackson and Parry intended this to be an “ends justify the means” statement, but I began to wonder what prevented us, as a society, from shifting our collective focus from leader-centric to shared or co-leadership opportunities. Certainly there’s an argument for such a shift, but the practice of follower-centric leadership hasn’t been widely accepted to date… are we ready to digest the suggestion that we may need to instantaneously transition between leader and follower as circumstances and needs of the team change? The Art of Followership examines the many roles followers play and the often complex relationships formed between leaders and followers, not to mention the followers’ influence on culture, standards, and the practice of leadership. While the movement continues to become more robust, leader-centric models are still more widely studied, researched, and practiced. But, what would happen if we are all leaders?
This past week I also had the opportunity to hear Dr. Brene Brown speak on vulnerability at the International Leadership Association conference. Her research suggests that as a society we have become intolerant of vulnerability. This intolerance has lead to foreboding joy, disappointment as a lifestyle, low-grade disconnection, perfection, extremism, and numbing. She suggests that our intolerance of vulnerability may prevent us from experiencing joy.
Is it a lack of vulnerability which prevents us adopting a follower-centric model of leadership? In part, maybe…
Merriam-Webster defines courage as the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” The “what-if” questions and risk we take as leaders to turn over the “important” or “critical” work of leadership which we cannot merely be assign to just anyone becomes crippling. I suggest courage, rather than vulnerability because of the strength suggested by the definition of courage.
If you recall earlier in the semester we took a deep dive into the Social Change Model, reviewing an article by Helen Astin (1996) titled, “Leadership for Social Change” in which she describes a team’s reflection on the model and subsequent suggestion that courage may be added as the eighth “C” of the model. The students Astin describes noted that it takes courage to make a change, and the power of the group inspired them to persist in achieving the common purpose; in their case, a social action project. Nevertheless, this model is about change, and courage may be the key.
To be a courageous leader we may need to examine our lens and begin to celebrate the value of what people create together. To value shared leadership. To take a risk and allow others to rise up. To transform how we lead, and how we follow.
When have you demonstrated courageous leadership?