A lot has been written and said when it comes to leadership. It is a topic that attracts multiple perspectives yet somehow definitive clarity as to what it is and how it is best practiced, proves illusive.

MazeIn their book, Leadership Matters, authors Thomas Cronin and Michael Genovese provide some resounding clarity when it comes to the complexity that surrounds the topic of leadership.

Taken from their preface, Cronnin and Genovese identify the following five leadership ‘themes’ – themes that provide the core to their book:

1.    Leadership matters
2.    Leadership remains hard to define
3.    Leadership has to do with reconciling diverse values, interests, and ambiguities
4.    Leadership requires a combination of optimism and scepticism, of strength and compassion, of mastering quantitative information and yet believing in one’s intuition
5.    ‘Can leadership be taught?’ is the wrong question. ‘Can leadership be learnt?’ is the better question.

Leadership is always context specific. Paradox and complexity shape the overriding context when it comes to the practice of leadership in the 21st Century. These twin forces of paradox and complexity have been hastened by technological innovation and demographic shifts as well as increasing disruption and volatility. Of course all of these words – paradox, complexity, disruption and volatility are both subjective and interdependent. As open as they may be to interpretation they have to be considered in any serious discussion about leadership. One might argue that these prevailing conditions shaping leadership have been present for every generation and to a point that would be true. However, in TomorrowToday we would argue that the contemporary impact of these ‘forces’ or prevailing conditions is unprecedented.

The universal challenge is how then does one best prepare leaders to lead in such challenging times? The traditional practice and model is that of the ‘LDP’ – the Leadership Development Programme honed and delivered by business schools the world over.

Whilst leadership programmes serve a purpose, the danger is that leadership has become seen as something ‘you get by going on a programme’. Our thinking and practice of leadership in the corporate world has become too narrow, too restricted and essentially has become disconnected from what it needs to be: something deeply authentic, something emergent, something lived – an understanding that you lead out of who you are.

Were leadership programmes to orientate themselves around the 5 points listed above, I suspect they would look fundamentally different to what is currently served up as ‘leadership development’ from the traditional leadership kitchens, the business schools.

We need to initiate new conversations around leadership and how best to both practice it and learn it. We need to overhaul much of what currently masquerades as ‘leadership development’ and be willing to challenge current (financially successful) models that house leadership education and development. Perhaps the ‘gap’ that exists is not one of ignorance but rather one of courage – courage to act on what we know and be bold when it comes to exploring learning how to lead in a changing world.

Yes, the more I think about it, it is not that we don’t know all this – it is rather that we lack the courage to challenge the status quo, to say, “this really isn’t working” and be willing to experiment in finding a better way. And if there is one thing that I do know, it is this: there is always a ‘better way’!

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