Monday, 29 April 2013

I'm Spartacus!

In the current issue of Management Today, Nigel Nicholson offers “A New View of Leadership”.

Some of what he describes is not new – he offers a triangular model of seeing (vision), being (identity), and doing (action), which may be considered an attempt to bring together visionary, authentic, and action-based approaches to leadership.  Nicholson calls his contrivance “The Leadership Formula”, but it seems to me to contradict the much more interesting opening to his article.

Describing the collective behaviour of animals and birds, in herds and in flight, Nicholson asks “who is leading?” and characterises this as a “very human question and presumption”.  We can all, no doubt, recall instances where managers (aspiring leaders) see the key to teamwork as effective leadership (their leadership). Instead, Nicholson argues, teams that lack leaders do not lack leadership, because “leadership is not a thing (nor is it necessarily embodied in a charismatic individual) but a process”.

I’ve written before that anyone who has served in the forces, or has played a team sport, knows that leadership is often exercised by individuals other than the designated leaders, and sometimes by a collective. There is an increasing understanding that leadership is not the exclusive preserve of senior managers, something exercised from the top down – rather it is something anyone can do, in the right place and the right time.  We are all (potential) leaders, we are all Spartacus.

Nicholson seems to me to have carried this argument a step forward, emphasising that leadership is more than an individual quality, it is a condition to be cultivated in a work team or organisation, a pre-condition for success.  I am grateful for his insight and analysis, even if I feel he does spoil it a little by decrying “recipe books”, then going on to offer his own individual-centric “formula”.


Unknown said...

Kenneth, while I’m tempted to reply to this blog, “no, I’m Spartacus!” I won’t be flippant. Rather, I have to say, Nicholson hits the nail on the head. For over a decade I have led a successful international company and am now part of a much larger global company and Nicholson’s approach absolutely echoes my own experience that leadership is something cultivated within a group not possessed by one individual.

Ken said...

Thanks for the comment. I agree (of course) that Nicholson hits the nail on the head with his articulation of the principle that leadership is the collective property of the team. Just a pity he goes on to demonstrate a model that seems to go back to heroic individuals.