Now here is a real challenge, how to lead when actually you don't have line authority, you don't necessarily have attendees who share the same priorities and goals.
So I thought a very personal view of leadership within collaborative partnerships, focused on leadership in times of dramatic change and from the perspective of complexity theory. Thanks also to Professor Ralph Stacey for his thought provoking insights into this arena which have informed my thinking.
Having 'consulted' for many years in a plethora of organisations from commercial through to public service and charity on areas from leadership, through team working and subsequently high performance cultures, I am left with some common threads that seem to always be present in those that work most effectively. These include;
What actually are organisations or indeed Partnerships?
Perhaps it's better to look at them as a 'system' constructed by its members through the interaction of its members. So to be a bit off-the-wall, an organization is just a thought, not a thing. An imaginary construct of what is happening. Fundamentally it works because on the whole people come to work each day to do tasks that, should they agree locally it is right to do, and this extends out throughout the whole group, it all works as a whole rather than by 'divine direction' from the top.
If leaders do decide what we do and set the vision, then why are we here now? Would they have designed the current position for any one of their organisations? NO.
So, the organisation emerges. The effective partnership emerges.
Ultimately, if individuals interact positively and agree what they do is right, this affects others near them and the overall thing creates patterns that appear coherent and effective – known therefore as emergence – though one has to accept somewhat unpredictable.
Ethics and the critical role it plays in leadership success.
One final facet to include of course is the issue of ethics – not so much ethics of the whole organisation, but the ethics of each person in the individual decisions at the most local of levels (1-2-1) through the individual actions we take.
Let's face it, one point I have talked about at the NPIA on this theme, is that ethics form the basis of trust, and trust is only gained through actions (I see what you do – so you mean it, but only believe you when you repeat it consistently over time).
So the big question is, what do you do if you know this or understand this construct and want to influence and effect good leadership?
Leadership therefore in our context is NOT a 'heroic figure', but more all about the local interactions between human beings.
Too many people are pre-occupied with the 'game' and not thinking how to decide what is best, so are engaged in 'politics, persuasion and negotiation' rather than what actually the whole thing is aiming to achieve. So for effective leadership we should stop thinking of pre-designed solutions or ultimate master plans, but more how to influence the 'group' in the 'right direction'.
Excellent leadership (which is in my mind a social phenomenon arising through the interaction between people) is where others recognise you lead and you recognise their roles. Leadership is therefore co-created.
Leaders therefore must:
- Interact locally (regularly)
- Communicate to large numbers of people. However remember the interpretation is how it is taken up by local interactions. Pronouncements are but gestures and the effect once again is through local responses – we can't control how it is interpreted.
- Understand how it works locally which ultimately is by 'conversations'. Conversations within groups and between individuals.
- Realise they are leaders, only if they are sensitive to the situation and able to articulate what is emerging, which helps the group move forward and on.
Leaders therefore have to:
- Widen and deepen communication to help the group move forward
- Try and explore what to do in change (options)
- Stimulate ordinary conversations in times of anxiety – why? Because if we don't, people jump to conclusions as they are looking for safety (or to meet their own agenda).
- Live longer with being anxious so they keep the conversations going longer so a solution arises that is far better than jumping to quick fixes and mundane solutions no one in the end believes really work.
- Be self-reflective to realise they should not be idealised as this can lead to ultimate denigration – let's face it, Barak Obama realises this when he says he is 'not the Messiah' or has all the answers.
- Help others take the next step.
So, I agree with those that say selection and training of leaders of partnerships is essential. That same training should open leaders' minds to all these insights and help them understand how to manage this uncertainty, while finding the way forward for themselves and for the group as a whole. Should you wish to know more, or even put something in place for your leaders please do not hesitate to drop me a line.