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Not About The Leader


“Making initiatives successful is all about
focus and passionate commitment. The drumbeat must be relentless. Every
leadership action must demonstrate total commitment to the initiative.” — Jack
Welch


Welch believes that leadership success depends on the focus and
passionate commitment of the leader. Other authors emphasize different aspects
of leader behavior but nonetheless, the leader is the prime mover, the key
factor in the leadership equation. Similarly, “leadership” evokes various
related images, depending on who is speaking and who is listening. Central to
those images, however, are a few common characteristics that deserve your
attention. For example, virtually all leadership images include an individual
filling the leader role. Concurrently, an individual or group fills the follower
role. The image is one of leaders and followers. Further, the leader sets the
direction of motion and the followers conform to that directional prompt. This
arrangement forms a familiar image: leaders leading and followers following.


Typically, then, the image of leadership is based on a model
that first includes a leader. This individual exhibits skills and abilities,
characteristics and traits, behaviors and qualities that are identifiable and
collectively attributable more to leaders than to non-leaders. Call these
characteristics, traits, and behaviors “leader substance” or the X factor.


Followers similarly exhibit skills and abilities,
characteristics and traits, behaviors and qualities that are typically
associated more with followers than with non-followers. Call these
characteristics, traits, and behaviors “follower substance” or the Y factor.


The image is completed when the direction of motion set by the
leader and the followers conforming to that prompt result in observable change
in the image over time. This aspect of the image may be referred to as “change
substance” or the Z factor.


The tentative conclusion, then, is that leadership is operating
whenever X + Y is producing Z, with the collective action of all three factors
representing the necessary condition for leadership to be
present. Conversely, if any of the three factors is absent, leadership is not
present. You are observing leadership only when there is a leader, followers,
and the followers are conforming to the directional prompt of the leader.


Much of the “leadership” literature focuses more or less
exclusively on the leader, on the X factor. Attention is limited to the skills
and abilities, characteristics and traits, behaviors and qualities associated
with leaders and with leadership excellence. The followers are seen as a
constant and conforming to the directional prompt of the leader is seen as a
dependent variable in relationship to the leader. In the model, leadership is
mostly if not exclusively about the leader.


As can be seen, “leadership” is a complex phenomenon, with the
leader only representing one factor. At a minimum, the followers and their
capacity to conform to the directional prompt of the leader are of equal or
perhaps greater significance. Additionally, the operating environment may be an
additional factor not considered above.


A sports example can be used to illustrate the point. Start with
a leader . Add followers . Now have the players conform
to the directional prompt of the coach, they play well. Assume this is a
football team and they win the Super bowl. Is it appropriate to conclude that
we are seeing an example of great leadership, by the coach?


If you turn to the leadership literature for guidance, you
quickly conclude that, “Yes, the coach is a great leader and this is an example
of leadership excellence.” Suppose you learned that this team has the only
qualified football players in the league. Is the fact that they won the Super
Bowl still a product of leadership excellence? Probably not. Suppose further
that this team is the only team that has experience playing in the snow and the
Super Bowl was played in the snow. Again, attributing the win to leadership
excellence may be unjustified.


It’s clear that any of the factors associated with leadership
, in addition to the operating environment, can and do affect the
leadership phenomenon. Leadership is not about the leader any more so than
education is about the teacher or baseball is about the Manager. The leader is
a key factor among key factors, no more, no less.





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