Do We Need a Leader?
To answer this question, let’s ask, what is a leader in the first place?
My preferred definition is that a leader is ‘someone who can take you further than you could ever go on your own.’
Leadership is to do with values and transformation as opposed to management, whose prime concern is process integrity and operational effectiveness.
“Leaders and followers are not static roles”
Leaders guide us into the unknown and out through the other end, they enable the opportunity to develop and progress and instill the belief that the team can and will, achieve something truly remarkable.
But here’s the rub; the most productive cultures do not have a single leader but possess leaders at all levels.
They understand that leaders and followers are not static roles.
This came to mind when I read that Google* learned that the most important dynamic setting successful teams apart from other teams was psychological safety i.e. ‘Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?’
What the above question is really asking is ‘how accountable do we each want to be and can we trust each other to share this burden of accountability?‘
Psychological safety was first prescribed by the Harvard Professor, Amy Edmondson who wrote:
‘Psychological safety is not about being nice; it’s not about letting people off easy and being comfortable. It is about the courage to be direct and holding high expectations of each other, understanding that uncertainty and risk are part of the work, as is the occasional failure.’
Too often, the true potential of a team is restricted by the fear of expressing opinions and suggestions that may run counter to the general mode of thinking.
Ironically, often the idea that is the craziest is what is required to move forward. Fear of tapping the full cognitive potential of the team is what restricts the capacity to excel.
This is where the nominal, hierarchical leader has the crucial role to play, to level the playing field for all, investing transparency, belief and, above all, security as Dr Martin Luther King aptly said:
“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”
‘Doing the right thing’ is what leaders at all levels of the organisation do. They speak up, express constructive opinions with the understanding that it is safe and secure to do so.
We all need a single leader at a point in time, but more importantly, is the working environment that inspires leadership in us all to step up when the occasion requires, to transform from follower to leader and to commit to doing the right thing.
*Google’s 5 key team dynamics:
- Psychological safety
- Structure & Clarity
- Meaning of Work
- Impact of Work