Why Leadership Has Nothing To Do With Managing People

       By: Mitch McCrimmon
Posted: 2007-10-21 15:08:43
It is fascinating that the bulk of writing about leadership talks about what it means to be a boss, CEO, manager or team leader. What this shows, above all else, is that we are biological creatures chained to our hierarchical drives. We like to think that humans can rise above the level of other animals, but we share a focus on hierarchy with most of the higher animal kingdom. On this view, a leader is a person who can rise to the top of the pecking order, who can call the shots and who we look up to as a father figure.Surely, in our knowledge driven age we are ready to cast aside this primitive model of leadership. Not that we can give up our hierarchical drives. There is no way we can shed our biological imperative. When we get anxious or lose direction we want a father figure to lean on, someone to soothe our fears and show us the true path. Also, there is nothing wrong with turning to seemingly stronger persons when we feel afraid.However, we need to reinvent leadership for a knowledge age. Primitive leadership is all about occupying a semi-permanent role in a fixed hierarchy. It is based on the power to dominate a group. For other animals, this power is brute strength. Leadership for humans was quite recently still associated with this form of power. It is now moving toward a new form of power - the ability to develop and promote new ideas. Leadership is still about providing direction. The difference is that the primitive leader simply decides what to do. This is possible in simple situations like street gangs, tribes and sports teams, but complex businesses that compete through constant innovation are different. The CEO is too far removed from the technology to know what to do. If leadership means providing direction, then leadership is increasingly becoming bottom up rather than top down. The person at the top needs to be seen as a manager who sometimes shows leadership. No one is a leader just by being in a management role.Leadership in a knowledge based world might be called thought leadership. Anyone with a good idea who can successfully influence a group to change direction is showing leadership. You might show this leadership to your boss or colleagues. Martin Luther King Jr. showed leadership to the U.S. government by campaigning for desegregation on buses. He did not manage any government department. His leadership was shown from the sidelines. This example shows how leadership has nothing to do with managing a team, that it is solely about promoting a better way, challenging the status quo and standing up for what you believe.Leadership only relates to managing a team when you see it as being a position of power over a group. But leadership conceived as promoting a new direction from outside the organization or bottom up is really only an occasional action. It has nothing to do with occupying a position. From this point of view, there are no leaders, only leadership acts.See http://www.leadersdirect.com for more information on this and related topics. Mitch McCrimmon's latest book, Burn! 7 Leadership Myths in Ashes was published in 2006. He is a business psychologist with over 30 years experience of leadership assessment and executive coaching.
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