So many business practices are so obvious and routine and yet we don’t think about them consciously – like this.
What a dilemma, do you choose a leader or do you let individuals choose leadership?
Are real leaders made to a routine construction plan? Can we simply pull another person off the shelf in the workshop who is made of what we deem to be the right raw materials, throw them on the bench and spend years belting them into shape with a hammer? Or do we spend our time carefully watching for leaders to germinate and emerge, then encourage and nurture them when they do?
Is leadership so clearly defined that you have no choice but to carefully choose that round peg for that round hole, or do you allow real leaders to emerge and find their place, whatever that may be in your organisation. Perhaps there are leaders in your organisation trying to emerge in places you never expected, like a wild flower in the desert after that once in a year torrential downpour. Maybe there are people in your organisation that have a leadership offering you have never contemplated because they don’t fit your predefined profile, and so they don’t get considered, they remain off the radar. What a missed opportunity that might be. Maybe you have square holes everywhere that need filling but you simply can’t see them you are so fixed on and certain about your round hole theories.
Emergent versus Assigned Leadership
An emergent leader, is a leader that comes from within a team or an organisation. They assume a leadership role, or a roll of influence before being formally assigned a leadership position. Of course, emerging as a leader doesn’t guarantee you will be assigned a position.
An assigned leader, is a leader that is appointed to a position, and may come from within an organisation or they may be an external appointment.
Each have many arguments for and against. For example, Assigned Leaders have immediate authority and their position commands immediate respect. However, the Assigned Leader then needs to quickly earn the genuine and sustainable respect of their staff otherwise the respect is very quickly whittled away along with any hope of influence. On the other hand, an Emergent Leader typically emerges with the respect of their colleagues and is a proven entity in their own environment. However, Emergent Leaders may be too close to their friends and colleagues and this may cause conflict under circumstances where tough decisions are required.
Our fear of emergent leaders
Picture this. You put one hundred people in a room and give them a list of challenges to address, then you walk away without a single instruction and leave them to their demise or otherwise. Undoubtedly, as it does in the schoolyard, leaders will emerge. However, what is questionable of course is will they emerge for the right reasons. Will they appear in the form of the loudest, the physically most imposing, the most threatening or the most conniving. And what will be their motivations? Altruistic or purely self serving? Just maybe, they will emerge for the right reasons and have enormous value to add.
Where is the most fertile ground
The best place to identify and capitalise on emergent leaders is in an established environment where the reward and recognition for leadership from these people is purely intrinsic.
“Intrinsic motivation is the self-desire to seek out new things and new challenges, to analyze one’s capacity, to observe and to gain knowledge. It is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward.” Wikipedia
You will know people in your business who are completely engaged in what they’re doing, they love their work and they are motivated by the success of the team in which they work. This success, and this sense of purpose are intrinsic motivations. This is not to suggest that leaders should not be influenced to some degree by extrinsic motivations. We all have needs, food, security, employment etc. However, wherever it is possible, intrinsic motivations are the most healthy motivations. In this case, what is driving the desire to lead is simply a passion for leadership or a passion to reach an outcome related to a particular situation. What a wonderful job interview. Is this the most authentic demonstration of real leadership there can be?
Hence the case for a conscious awareness of and strategizing for responding to the emergent leader oportunity. The question is:
Are we consciously aware of emerging leaders, do we recognize their potential and do we have strategies to nurture that potential 0r are we simply reactive and focussing on assigning leadership?
Situational Leadership – I may be the best leader for just a moment, but that’s ok
Of course some emergent leaders may only blossom in particular circumstances and this is what’s referred to as situational leadership. A particular oblique situation or circumstance may fertilise an individual’s passion to lead and so they will emerge like the wildflower give the right environmental circumstances. It doesn’t necessarily follow that they will be inherently suited to the broader role of leadership in general. But what this suggests to me is that perhaps organisations need to be more flexible, agile and more innovative not only in their identification of leaders, but in providing opportunities or reducing interference with situational leadership. Someone emerges and you give them the reins and see where the journey may take them and the company, even if that is only for a short while, a project, a business process improvement etc.
What can you do?
As a manager of even a small or medium size team, you can capitalise on emergent leadership by supporting and encouraging individuals who take responsibility, considering their suitability in succession planning, or by consciously stepping back and allowing situational leadership as a way to optimise performance and to support professional development of your team members. There will undoubtedly be a significant improvement in engagement from the individual and also their colleagues who see and respect the process in action.
Take a look around your team today and see if you can identify the emerging leaders and then think about what is being done to support, develop and invest in them. They may just be your leaders of the future.
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Many thanks to James Westmore for his wonderful artwork