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There are Leaders and There are Leaders….

Tom Riordan - Founder - Leaders for LeedsI must confess I’m not a great reader of books, despite the best efforts of friends and colleagues, mainly because I spend so much time reading emails, papers and letters at work.  I’ve had a healthy scepticism of the management “panacea” books whereby if you start acting like Alan Sugar or Tom Peters you’ll suddenly transform into a great inspirational leader.  And I have a rule of thumb that anyone who claims to be an inspirational leader generally isn’t.

That said, the nearest leadership theory I’ve heard of that describes what I believe in is the idea of “servant leadership” put forward by Robert Greenleaf.  Wikipedia describes it as follows:

“Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid.” By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

That to me describes pretty well the challenge of leadership in a decade of austerity and a Century in which the big issues like poverty, inequality, climate change, social cohesion, obesity, ageing and the like can’t be tackled by a command and control model.  They also demand leadership across silos in organisations, between different bodies and from front-line staff and middle managers as well as at the “top” of organisations.

Leaders emerge every day in Leeds; to catch an elderly person with dementia to stop them from falling, to protect a child who is in danger, to stand up to racist abuse or homophobia, and in countless social situations.  Football and netball coaches, scout leaders, coffee morning organisers and the like play a positive civic leadership role in localities.  The Commission on the Future of Local Government led by Leeds City Council concluded that it was often Council staff – rather than a well known motoring organisation – who acted as the fourth emergency service.   And of course to get anything done successfully in a city like Leeds the Council is only one of the players on the pitch.  We rely on community leaders, voluntary groups, businesses, charities, schools, universities, GPs and many more to help tackle these challenges and take advantage of opportunities.

Some commentators see this “atomisation” of public policy as part of the crisis of democracy in that it excludes and diminishes the role of Elected Members and local government.  It certainly challenges the “old” model of command and control for many organisations, but the Leeds Commission concluded that Councils needed to empower local ward members to take a wider community champion role to extend their democratic mandate.  Councils have the organising capacity and mandate that many others don’t, and Leeds City Council is seeking to do just that.

Leaders for Leeds is a great example of how this new “sector-less” civic enterprise approach can help tackle the big issues we face.

4 Responses

  1. Fiona Titterington

    Thanks, this very interesting, I like the idea of servant leadership. A leader who I admire tremendously once explained to me that the key trait in great leadership is that of being humble, not always assuming that one knows best! In my experience this is an effective message, though it took me several years to really understand what that actually means. Good learning!

  2. Mike,
    I fully endorse your appreciation that ‘command and control’ leadership does not work well in our increasingly digitalised Information Economy where more people are more empowered to share communal responsibilities.

    Having just returned from the the ICF global summit in New York where their top seven ‘Intelligent Communities’ were gathered in friendly rivalry for the 2013 awards, I was struck by two dominant themes.

    I wrote of one theme – the recognition of need – in ‘Shaken and Stirred’ and I’m prompted now to mention the second theme on account of the UK Government’s launch yesterday of its new Information Economy strategy.

    There is only so much that a central government can do – they are naturally wary of intervention – and the success of these high-level strategies and initiatives always depends on their translation to and application in each local economy and community.

    Nowhere does that apply more than in the area of ‘collaborative leadership’ – the open sharing of responsibility between local government and local enterprise. This, often informal, collaborative community leadership was much in evidence amongst those gathered in New York and reflects my experience earlier in the year when studying the underlying drivers of economic and community development in another US city – Chattanooga in eastern Tennessee.

    The new UK Information Economy strategy (from BIS) makes for good reading (encouragingly reflecting many of the themes in the NextGen ‘Economic Revitalisation’ paper of 2012 !) and business folks in Leeds will get a great opportunity to question the primary author, Paul Hadley (Deputy Director, BIS) when he gives a keynote address at the Rose Bowl on Wednesday next – 19th June. The Intelligent Cities conference provides a great platform for discussion of these leadership themes and for networking and sharing ideas with delegates from other cities.

    Your are right to point out the essential contributions of everyday folk who would not claim to be leaders. The need now is to instil that same sense of participative and collaborative leadership amongst the city and region’s enterprises and employers.

    If this comment site allowed insertion of hyperlinks they’d be included in the above but, no doubt, quick Google searches for ‘NextGen Leeds’ and ‘Economic Revialisation’ will suffice.

  3. Thought provoking post thanks Tom. For me the relevant part is about the servant-leader sharing power, ‘supporting’ by putting the needs of others first and developing and encouraging people to perform as highly as possible

    It seems to me that this is mostly about creating confidence and sharing knowledge. In the networked world, sharing knowledge is the new power, something perhaps not associated with the hierarchical model of leadership.

    I read a similar post recently by Catherine Howe discussing leadership and networks. I recommend people read it and the responses. It talks about networked leadership as oppose to hierarchical leadership. It is available at this link. http://www.curiouscatherine.info/2013/06/02/digital-leadership-or-just-leadership/

    It’s great to see people openly discussing how our city might develop in this blog and similar forums and learning from each other and encouraging people to share their views and develop ideas and themselves as leaders – the networked approach. And these days, networking means claiming your digital space and giving a bit of yourself to allow others to connect and give back. And that’s not easy for some, but becoming more relevant.

    Over time, some people move from being popular, to being effective, to being influential. I think influencers can appear at different levels in organisations and elsewhere; all part of evolving. For me, ‘powerful’ leadership is about recognising emerging ideas and individuals and giving them space to create and try new things, no matter what level they are at; leaders for Leeds for instance.

    Perhaps in a hierarchical leadership model that is the cultural change we find difficult and which holds us back – leading by sharing. I’m a great believer if you give people a reason to do something (the why) and show them the part that benefits them and then add the how to achieve it, confidence will grow and things happen.

    The truly influential leaders in digital civic space, not just in organisations, will be the ones who create and share knowledge, skills and contacts, and encourage others to do the same.

    It’s good to see where I work that is happening, slowly but surely.

  4. Mike Chitty

    I am not convinced about the possibility of sharing power. You can give people authority, but they have to find power for themselves. If you ‘give’ me power – then that implies a power relationship…If I accrue power however, and welcome a powerful me to the table….