In recent months there was a renewed discussion of the value of definition in relation to leadership with some arguing for the need for definition and some suggesting that definition would emerge from research. There have been for a long time those who take positions on the need for distinguishing between leadership and management. While I am not going to use this space to recap all of this, I am going to come down on the side of those seeking to distinguish leadership from management and those who see the value in having definitions of what it is we are talking about when we discuss leadership.
In earlier writings I have suggested that observing a leader is like a snapshot in the life of a system. Observing leadership is like watching the movie. This suggests that being a leader, or leading, is a time-bounded role, while leadership occurs throughout the life of a system and is performed by multiple players in multiple roles.
I have also favored Joseph Rost’s way of distinguishing leadership from management by inserting the admittedly ambiguous variable of “real change.” I prefer to think of leadership as being about influence and attractor processes with management being more about power and control. To appreciate these differences I also think that using the sociological device of “role” helps us keep in mind that any individual might occupy each of these roles at different times. In that way individuals who manage can also play the role of leader. These are not usefully thought about as simultaneous performances, but as sequential. Consequently, we often find in the literature the assumption of leadership being associated with position power in human systems.
It often becomes difficult for me to take too seriously the work of many authors who fail to make the kinds of distinctions that I believe are important. This is not so much about definition as it is about focus and attention. So many very valuable insights and perspectives have been offered from practice, theory and research, yet they demand that the reader track with the assumptions of the authors about these distinctions, even when they are not made explicit. This leads to considerable confusion for me and, I suspect, many of us.
From an integral perspective there is a way to approach this challenge that I think will be useful. At least it is a beginning that can evolve and develop with the help of those who agree that this is an important path to pursue.
I offer the following terms and descriptions as a place to build from and hope that this is interesting to sufficient numbers of people that they will, indeed, build on it.
Leader is a temporary role in a human system. It is comprised of the worldview and behaviors of an individual in the performance of that role. Such behaviors are designed to attract and influence others to make a significant change in current circumstances. The behaviors chosen are a product of worldview and capability brought to the role by an individual.
Leading involves the observable behaviors of an individual in a leader role.
Follower (collaborator, constituent) is a temporary role in a human system. It is comprised of the worldview and behaviors of an individual in the performance of that role. Such behaviors are designed to respond effectively (successfully) to the attraction and influence of a leader to make a significant change in current circumstances. The behaviors chosen are a product of worldview and capability brought to the role by an individual.
Following involves the observable behaviors of an individual in a follower (collaborator, constituent) role.
Leadership is a social phenomenon, over time, in a human system that involves individuals performing leader and follower roles in relation to each other and in relation to the culture and systems of the context.
An approach such as this opens the way to peer, servant, transformational, and any other kind of leadership you want to consider. It embraces the value in all of the approaches to leadership, while maintaining a distinction from management. It does not denigrate management or leadership or any other concept so much as it offers a way to bring these together or to clarify the relationship among practices, theory and development.
It very may well be that there are ways this can be improved upon, but wouldn’t it be useful if we could at least be explicit about how we are using these terms in our work? I suppose that is wishful thinking that when we use these terms we were talking about the same thing. But there is some merit to the notion that no matter how we define our terms or point our noses meaning is going to vary. But that meaning is shaped by perspective and assumptions are built on perspective. And integral theory offers an approach that can bring these perspectives together and embrace the value in all.
> Russ Volckmann