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It’s time for leadership to evolve

If there is one universal truth about leadership, it’s that there is no single way of doing it right. To be authentic, leaders must be themselves and, as we know, everyone is different.  

However, in the last decade, our social landscape has changed dramatically and our approaches to leadership need to reflect this.  The people we lead want a voice, want to contribute and want to be involved. Therefore, if we genuinely want to maximise organisational performance while supporting the wellbeing of the people we lead, we need to shift our leadership away from direction and engagement to genuine involvement.  

Historically, leaders were seen as the people who directed and the vast majority of people accepted this. Our initial response to changes in the social landscape was to focus on engagement as a way to get people to come along on our journey. Interestingly, although we used engagement surveys to assess how people felt and how engaged they were with our ideas and plans, we failed to recognise that people, including ourselves, have become increasingly sensitive to anything that we perceive as coercive. 

Leadership through involvement is a fundamentally different approach that requires adaptive changes in leaders’ mindsets with regard to the way they lead.

To support this, psychological research indicates that we seem to have become ‘inherently’ resistant to anything perceived as a “have to”, and, even if we do complete the task, our goal becomes to just to get it done rather than to strive for excellence. Hence coercive cultures are characterised by resistance and mediocrity. 

Leadership through involvement is a fundamentally different approach that requires adaptive changes in leaders’ mindsets with regard to the way they lead. Obviously, this shift challenges many of the underlying beliefs we hold about our role as leaders, but it also challenges us personally. We are no longer the owner of ideas, the director of actions, the person who is leading from the front. Leading through involvement is not about leaders, it’s about leadership. 

A critical factor in involvement is to ensure that all your people have a genuine and safe platform to speak; not just about how they feel, but to continuously evaluate organisational performance and share ideas and solutions on all aspects of the organisation, including leadership effectiveness. 

Although potentially confronting, collating and analysing multiple perspectives from the people we lead enhances key aspects such as self-awareness and leadership alignment. Responding effectively to these insights with actions, including going back to people for their ideas and solutions, is often the most powerful thing leaders can do to establish themselves as authentic leaders with strong relational leadership.

Date: 22nd November 2021
Category: Leadership
Ian Richards
Ian Richards
Senior Consultant
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