Leading From Anywhere

I’m currently developing some work with Richard Martin, which is giving us cause to examine what leadership is, and how it differs from management. Richard has articulated something helpful which I’d like to share with you.

Leadership can come from anywhere and anyone, whereas management is usually an assigned role. Or put another way:

Leadership: Articulating a vision, setting strategy, inspiring others. Qualitative and outcome-oriented. Whole system.

Management: Focus on delivery, and the organisational and resourcing elements that enable it. Quantitative and output-oriented. Measurement and process.

When I was sketching out the current version of Principles of Work, I got stuck thinking about a suitable image to represent ‘Lead by Example’. Carole suggested I Google ‘leadership’ for some inspiration, so I did, and here’s some of what I found.

Leadership Google Search 1

What an underwhelming response. I kept scrolling and things didn’t get any better.

Leadership Google Search 2

Image after image of anonymous bubble shaped cartoon men pointing, conducting, megaphoning, and striding forth with their legions of dutiful followers. This is not the leadership I’m looking for, and it certainly doesn’t fit with the idea that leadership can come from anywhere and anyone.

I diversified my thinking, starting to include other words into my searches, and I discovered some images of aerobatic display teams at work. I was struck by the many formations these teams adopt, and how frequently, there is no single leader out in front.

Lead by Example copy

I chose this formation to demonstrate leading by example. It speaks to me of trust, and of the possibility that leadership can come into play from any position on the team. As we look at the formation here, it may be that the leader is sitting in the plane at the back – the only position where this whole formation can be viewed from. And as the group switches places, the role of leader can shift too.

How do you define leadership – and what images does it conjure up for you? Let me know your thoughts and I’ll see if I can draw something for you.

Headcount reductions, a coward’s way out

The board has decided – we have to let people go. The axe swingeth. Who does it hit? Often the blade chops through large teams. The rationale being something like “there’s 50 of them – they can cope as a team of 40”. In some ways this looks more achievable, and perhaps desirable than “this team of four couldn’t possibly function if it got any smaller”.

Let’s say the team of 50 are front line customer service folk earning £25,000 each, and the team of four are management folk earning £100,000 each. Now I don’t know about you but in my experience bigger organisations can often cope with the loss of one of the management team much better than the loss of several front line staff. Trouble is – this is a headcount reduction you see, so in this case four is better than one. You don’t suppose these things are designed like this to protect the more senior folk do you?

I recall a division of a big company going through a round of voluntary redundancies. It was announced and presented along with an organisation chart mainly consisting of blank spaces. The blank spaces numbered fewer than the current number of people. Reapply for your job á la musical chairs. What struck me was that the first page of the chart was already complete. The Managing Director and all his reports were deemed essential. Now there’s a funny thing eh?

No one likes having to get rid of people, but surely trying to achieve a reduction in the paybill is at least as valid a way of managing the challenge?