The major barrier to expansion of leadership capacity within organizations and beyond is common sense and meaning of words/terms 'leadership' and ‘leader’, obsolete but dominating paradigm that ‘leadership’ is a job of ‘leaders’.
Adding different adjectives and writing thousands of words to describe and explain new meanings of ‘leadership’ and new roles of ‘leader’ is very inefficient and ineffective way to actually inculcate these ‘new meanings’ in organizations, communities, societies, countries and the world.
We need not just ‘new concept of leadership’ and ‘new concept of leader’ but new clear and simple words by which we will name them. Words that will work as well for naming and symbolizing ‘new leadership(s)’ and ‘new leader(s)’ as current words of ‘leadership’ and ‘leader’ work for an obsolete concept symbolized by these words.
In far too many organizations attempts to expand leadership capacities are crashing on common meaning of the words 'leadership' and 'leader' like waves on rocks. Trying to cultivate bottom-up leadership, true leadership, authentic leadership, leadership without power, 21st century leadership, leadership of this, leadership of that, leadership of leadership, leadership, leadership, leadership...organizations and their leaders just keep operating within a very powerful and useful to keep the power but demotivating and disruptive the-divide-and-rule-Matrix sorting out people by obsolete criteria of leader vs manager, leader vs follower, leader vs member, leader vs non-leader, leader vs crowd, leader vs mass…
Traditional meanings of words ‘leadership’ and ‘leader’ as of somebody who can convince and persuade others and whom people follow, who leads, guides or directs others are deeply embedded in people’s minds and this is a major obstacle for new concepts and practical tools of ‘everywhere and everybody leadership’ to spread all over the world and help individuals, organizations, communities, societies, governments and international bodies be more innovative, effective, efficient and human.
For one group of people (no formal power or introvert personality) deeply embedded traditional meaning of ‘leadership’ makes it very difficult to recognize and understand their ‘leadership capabilities’, develop and apply them at full capacity. For another group (having formal power and/or strong ‘typical extravert leadership charisma’) the same traditional meaning makes it very difficult to recognize and understand ‘leadership capacities’ of those in the first group and thus realize their own ‘leadership capabilities’ at full capacity.
One more dimension to the problem is the role of politics and media broadcasting political news and events in a same manner all over the world. In this area words ‘leadership’ and ‘leader’ will most probably be used in traditional meanings for many years to come, thus, further cultivating these meanings in people’s minds and helping to keep or maybe even grow this major barrier for people to understand and inculcate ‘new meanings and tools of leadership’. If all day long for many years to come you will keep hearing from all possible media that ‘leader of country X’ has said that…’leaders of THE BIG … will meet to…’, ‘leader of terrorist organization Y has warned that…’ and so on and so forth how would you make people embrace new meaning of ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’? How would you make people and organizations inculcate new tools that will be named by words symbolizing something completely different. We can’t talk about white calling it black. It just doesn’t work.
There are no leaders or non-leaders. There are different types and kinds of contributors.
We value leaders not for leadership itself but for positive, sometimes game changing, contributions they make to their communities, organizations, societies, countries, the world.
Indeed, it is contribution that matters and differentiates leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs from leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, Bin Laden.
It is contribution that differentiates motivated and highly effective client service manager or front-desk employee from bored and counter-productive but still powerful CEO.
We don’t use a word ‘manager’ with different adjectives like ‘authentic manager’, ‘true manager’ etc. if we talk about somebody who leads and organization in a traditional understanding of leading. We just say - ‘leader’, we name certain type of personality and certain role of this personality in organization by a specific word.
We need to do exactly the same with ‘new leadership’ and ‘new leaders’. We just need to call them by their real names – contributing and contributor.
There are four basic types of contributing and contributors that make a positive difference.
g-contributing and g-contributors: people (here and further - at any level of organization) that make a difference by generating radically new ideas and thoughts;
d-contributing and d-contributors: people that make a difference by developing new ideas and thoughts into something tangible, that works and produces added value;
p-contributing and p-contributors: people that make a difference by efficiently producing added value in existing operations over and over again.
i-contributing and i-contributors: people that make a difference by improving effectiveness and efficiency in existing operations without creating something entirely new.
These four basic types of positive contributing (meaning contributing that makes a positive difference) – Generating, Developing, Producing and Improving - represent the only four jobs that exist across all kinds of professions and industries by which human beings create world’s GDP and reach self-realization of their “I-s”
There’s one more important dimension in this solution - we need to go away from static word ‘leadership’ to dynamic word ‘contributing’ since ‘true, authentic, 21st century leadership’ is not a state it’s an action.
Imagine that you are a powerful CEO that has been struggling to implement everywhere and everyone leadership in your company. It is a beautiful Monday morning; you arrive in your office and send a message to all people in your company:
‘Guys, some time ago we launched the ‘everyone and everywhere leadership’ initiative.
We encouraged everyone to feel and think like leaders, to act like leaders, to make a difference like true leaders do.
But the results of our recent survey show that it didn’t work. We still have the same number of people who think of themselves as leaders but we noticed and increase in quantity and quality of ‘leadership initiatives’ and they helped us achieve very challenging market and operational goals. Is it a paradox? No! And I would like to tell you why.
We’ve realized that we actually don’t need ‘everywhere and everyone leadership’ because we have such a great contributors at all levels of our company. Our study helped us realize that when you contribute your talent and energy for a right purpose and in a right way that leads you towards achieving your personal and professional goals - these are the moments when you act as true and authentic leaders even if you don’t think of yourselves as a leaders.
So, why bother with definitions? We really don’t need you to label yourself as leader if you don’t want to. What we need is that you keep contributing to your personal success and growth and to success and growth of our company.
The results of our research revealed that we have 4 different kinds of contributors in our company.
Some of us contribute by generating new ideas and this is very valuable. Some of us contribute by developing these new ideas until they become new products or services, or new markets and businesses and this is very valuable too. There are people in our company that contribute by producing high quality outcomes in their repeatable processes over and over again on which depends everyday life of our company. Is this valuable? Yes it is very valuable just like other kinds of contributing. And finally, some of us contribute by taking care of making our business processes more effective or more efficient, and, of course, this is very valuable too.
We all contribute to success and growth of our company and our personal success and growth. By doing this we contribute to prosperity and well-being of our families, our community, our society, our country, and our world.
We value that you are contributing and we value all contributors. It means that we don’t need a label ‘leadership’ and ‘leader’ anymore to recognize that all of you are contributors and to reward and celebrate Best Contributors and their most remarkable contributions to our growth and success…’
When organization stops using words leader and leadership and instead will focus on using words contributor and contributing it will be much easier to implement “everywhere and everyone leadership’ in organization because it would increase trust and decrease fear - everyone can think of himself or herself as contributor but not everyone can think about himself or herself as a leader.
Abandoning habits is a huge challenge. Using words leader and leadership is a habit and it will take years to switch from this habit to a new one.
Pioneering organizations and business schools are needed to try this approach and see if it really works.
1. Top management announces to everybody in organization that labels ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ will no longer be used because it’s contribution that matters.
2. Introduce the concept of four types of contributing and contributors and launch ‘Best Contributor’ award in each category.
3. Organize educational seminars and workshops to help everyone understand how that can better understand and realize their potential in each category of contributing.
4. Launch research and study programs in leading business schools that would explore and develop the concept of contributing vs concept of leadership and teach contributing courses instead leadership courses.
An inspiration to write this hack came from the challenge brief and article ‘Leading without Authority’ by Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarr, from Personal Leadership Course by Hitendra Wadhwa, Professor of Practice at Columbia Business School and founder of Institute for Personal Leadership, from Aspen Ukraine leadership seminars, and from meditation.