Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Leadership Must Haves

I was asked by an academic colleague recently for a guide to a leadership "think piece" for a client who is migrating to ISO systems.

That is a darned good question, and it is hard to come up with a comprehensive one-stop-shop argument that covers the breadth of the leadership field.

Instead I replied with some ideas, which I thought I would rework into a blog post. These are my leadership must haves:

  1. For me, the MOST important aspect of leadership is creating, building and sustaining a positive culture. If you get that right, the rest looks after itself. One of the most terrible, negative and destructive things a leader can do is to think that culture is unimportant, or that it will sort itself out.

    Edgar Schein (1992, p. 5) said “Organisational cultures are created by leaders, and one of the most decisive functions of leadership may well be the creation, the management and if and when, that may become necessary, the destruction of culture. Culture and leadership, when one examines them closely, are two sides of the same coin and neither can really be understood by itself. In fact there is a possibility, underemphasised in the leadership research, that the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture and that the unique talent of leaders is their ability to work with culture”.

    Some previous posts on culture can be found at Managing Meaning, Changing Corporate Culture and Strong Cultures can be Negative.

  2. Second-most important for me is Phil Dourado's idea of Acts of Leadership (2007). Acts of leadership are those active and critical thinking actions that we take each day, rather than being a passenger in our own lives. I have posted about this before at Barriers to Leadership, Why Acts of Leadership and About on my blog.

  3. From that point, my personal affinity then lies mainly between two leadership styles: shared leadership and facilitative leadership.

    Facilitative leadership aligns well with teaching and coaching, being a values-based and supportive style ideal for development (Schwarz, 2002), focused on involving followers in the leadership process. I have a couple of blog posts on facilitative leadership and the components of facilitative leadership.

    Shared leadership works well with organisations where they can take ego out of the equation. Volunteer organisations, those focused on social good, places with embedded values will usually be able to work with this style. I wrote a case on Tennis New Zealand (on ResearchGate) which is attempting to provide organisational leadership in this way.

    I only know of two commercial organisations who embody a shared leadership style: Semco in Brazil and HCL Technologies in India. I am currently putting together a case on Semco, but just haven't had time to finish it (though once finished, it too will be on ResearchGate).

  4. Authentic leadership too is a transformative and modern leadership style, but this type of leader needs to possess the characteristics. Bill George (former Medtronic CEO, 2003) has done quite a bit of writing on this style, and on us doing personal work to grow into authentic followers (or authentic leaders if we are able to grow the appropriate traits).

  5. Also the leadership style discussed by ex-Stanford Prof Jim Collins, Level 5 Leadership, is a very powerful and enduring leadership style that suits people who are non-charismatic, or who may be more introverted. Jim's book "Good to Great" explores this style (2001).
For more information, Profs Brad Jackson & Ken Parry wrote a great little primer about leadership called "A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership" (2011), which explores current leadership trends and various schools of thought. I use this as a text for my Year 3 Sport & Rec students.

As Professor Jackson says "But it is all about leadership, isn't it?"


  • Collins, Jim (2001). Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap... and others don’t. USA: HarperCollins Publishers 
  • Dourado, Phil (2007). The 60 Second Leader: Everything you need to know about leadership, in 60 second bites. UK: Capstone Publishing Ltd
  • George, Bill (2003). Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. USA: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Jackson, Brad & Parry, Ken (2011). A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership (Second Edition). UK: Sage
  • Schein, Edgar H. (1992). Organizational Culture & Leadership (2nd Edition). USA: Jossey-Bass
  • Schwarz, Roger (2002). The Skilled Facilitator: A comprehensive resource for consultants, facilitators, managers, trainers and coaches (revised edition). USA: Jossey-Bass

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