This past week I attended a lecture by leadership expert, Etsko Schuitema. Etsko is the founder of the “Care and Growth” leadership approach. He asked a room full of people to list the characteristics of the leader that we would want to work for. He wrote these down on a flip chart as we shouted them out. Having filled a page, he paused. He asked if we thought there were any synonyms amongst the list, and if we thought we could summarise the list. We could, and so could he. Very quickly, and deftly, he reduced the list to “Care” and “Growth”.
The leader we’d most like to work for cares for us and helps us to grow. Simple, elegant and profound.
If this is true, then maybe we need rethink our definition of leadership.
Whole forests have died to print the mountain of paper on which definitions of leadership have been written. Think about how often you’ve had a discussion about the difference between leadership and management by way of example of this.
For most people, the definition of leadership comes down to something like “getting work done through other people.” There’s something deeply disturbing about this view. Let us explain why.
Picture two different bosses engaging with a staff member. Boss A says, “The task you’re trying to complete is something I did for a living more than ten years ago. What I did worked and I was good at it. I’ll show you how to do it, and then I want you to do it that way.” (They may add extra instructions like, “Shut up”, “Don’t ask any questions” and “You don’t need to even think about it. Just do it my way.” Whatever their exact words, you get the picture.)
Boss B says, “The task you’re trying to complete is something I did for a living more than ten years ago. What I did worked and I was good at it. If you think it will help, I’d be happy to show you what I did.”
Which boss would you rather work for?

Of course Boss B is seen as the better boss. Boss A doesn’t feel nice at all. But there’s something more profound going on here than just people dynamics, communication style and emotional intelligence.
leadershipLook at these two Bosses again, and think of the situation in terms of the means and the end (the process and the outcome). In front of both bosses is a task that needs to be done and a person. For Boss A, the end result is the completion of the task, and the means to achieving this is the person. The person is simply a “human resource”, a means to an end. And we’ve already established this doesn’t feel good – at least not for the staff member.
For Boss B, it’s the total inverse: the task is the means, and the person is the outcome. The development of their staff member is the focus. In the way Boss B phrased their initial statement, we have an invitation – an invitation to partnership, an invitation to engagement, an invitation to development. But also the option to decline the invitation. There is also an acknowledgement of the possibility that the way Boss B completed the task a decade ago may not be the way it should be done today.
Now here’s the rub.
If leadership is defined as “getting work done through other people”, which Boss best demonstrates this approach? It’s actually Boss A, isn’t it?
Boss B is “getting people done through work.” Sounds strange – but read that again. Boss B is getting people done through work. Changed and improved people are the focus and desired outcome. The task at hand is the way in which this is achieved.
This is actually what we believe leadership is about. Leaders use the work that must be done as the “excuse” to develop their people.
This is what Etsko means by his Care and Growth leadership model.
• Take some time to evaluate whether you are more like Boss A or Boss B.
• You probably are a blend of those two caricatures, so it might be more helpful to ask yourself under what conditions you are most likely to act like Boss A.
• In what ways does this set a negative tone for your team?
• How can you become like Boss B?
We actually have an answer for that last question: become an invitational leader. Find out more about this approach to leadership here (it’s a white paper our team has written on the invitational model of leadership). You will also be able to find out more when we release our book, “Leading in a Changing World” next month.
For now, though, just try to get more people done through your work.
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