What do you think of when you try and define the concept leadership? I surveyed my Twitter community recently and was struck with the diversity represented as they grappled with the idea. Most of the definitions spoke to leadership belonging to a group broader than individual leaders. Which is a shift from the dictionary definition:
Up until recently we have generally considered leadership to be synonymous with a person in a position of formal authority. But I think there is a new realization emerging that when we limit leadership to the behaviors of one person, we are limiting the possibilities of community based participation. School leadership specifically should be a broad concept that is separated from individuals and a predetermined set of behaviors performed by those in charge. The time has come to broaden the concept of leadership to include a shared responsibility for a shared purpose of the educational community.
However, it is also important to note that, “Despite thousands of empirical studies yielding hundreds of definitions of leadership, there is still no consensus about it.” (Evans, 1996, p. 116). For example in trait theory the basic assumption is that if an individual possess certain traits - we have good leadership. This idea that certain traits are needed and if I do not have them, then I should look for those more gifted than I to take the lead, has caused many who would have pitched in to help lead, back away. (You can get a quick primer on leadership theories here. http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/theories/leadership_theories.htm.)
But even with transformational leadership (the leadership model which until recently, most closely aligned with my personal leadership philosophy) described by Kouzes and Posner in their book, The Leadership Challenge (2002), there is an individual at the head- the Transformational Leader - who seeks to transform the organization, promising to the followers that in this process will be transformed in some way. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless the organization does not need transforming.
Kouzes and Posner’s transformational leadership is described as:
Model the way
None of us is as good as all of us
Leadership needs to be reconceptulaized to include the wisdom of the crowd. The skill set includes understanding how to leverage the wisdom of the crowd without simply developing a group think mentality.
Leadership, when conceptualized through a community lens, puts the concept “leadership” as being more global than the sum of its “leaders”. A viral flow is generated by those who are choosing to lead. It is the excitement and wave of energy and purpose created by a group of leaders who are committed to the work that pulls others in the community (including the formal leader) into the work of leadership. Everyone becomes engaged and has ownership in the improvement initiative. Leaders in the work are there because each brings something unique or purposeful to the cause.
The shift is - leadership becomes a learning together, a constructing meaning together, and a growing in expertise and understanding collaboratively and collectively, rather than a “do it because I say so mentality” or a “do it because I am so awesome that I inspire you to participate mentality” or “do it for the team mentality”. Leadership becomes an opportunity to learn socially by reflecting deeply with each other. Opportunities to negotiate perceptions, values, dispositions, information, and assumptions together through the continuing of conversations taking place in the community, allows the shared leadership to make sense of the work in the light of new ideas and shared beliefs. This in turn creates a series of actions, adaptations and improvements which grow out of the schematically connected new understandings. The sum becomes more powerful than it’s parts. Together in leadership we are much more amazing than we ever were apart. None of us is as good as all of us.
Evans, R. (1996). The human side of school change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2002). The leadership challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lambert, L. (1998). Building leadership capacity in schools. Alexandria: ASCD
Straker, D. (2009) Leadership theories. ChangingMinds.org Retrieved: http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/theories/leadership_theories.htm