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What IS good leadership?


The latest draft landed in my inbox recently for comment (all 160 pages of it). One sentence in particular stood out for me: ‘Leadership cannot be taught but it can be learned.’

To be honest I have no idea what this means or what the author is trying to get across. But it certainly got me thinking. What IS leadership? What personal qualities does it require? When is it good and when is it poor?

And that’s when I realised that I have completely changed my view on leadership.

I’ve always been fascinated by the topic and in my own modest way I felt that I had exhibited good leadership skills. I liked people and they seemed to like me. I worked hard at being democratic and inclusive and I have always had a strong strategic outlook.

Of course there were bits I wasn’t so good at – 360 degree appraisals told me I wasn’t trusting enough to let go and this sometimes made people feel undermined or undervalued. But I did enough to reach the position of Director and to make a decent job of it for five years.

So what’s changed? Well, two things.

Firstly, working with a range of organisations that are trying to adopt new and innovative approaches to their direction has made me realise that real change happens through a process where everyone (or at least a sizable number of people) start to realise their true potential.

This is not about leadership. It is about collective, collaborative personal development.

Secondly, working towards the Earth Summit has brought me to the realisation that it’s ‘Leadership’ that has gotten the world into the mess it’s in.

If we are to create a different world, one that’s more just and more sustainable, we will need a new approach. This approach will need to be much closer to what I’ve seen within some of these innovative organisations: collective, collaborative development.

So that’s what the leadership question has now become for me: less about personal leadership qualities and more about working as peers to generate new forms of collective momentum.

If that’s the type of world we wish to create, how do we mirror this in the way we work and how we live our lives? And what will this require of each of us going forward?