Leadership encompasses a range of responsibilities, beginning with the fundamental task of defining reality. This involves providing clarity on the current state of affairs within an organization or group, acknowledging challenges, and identifying opportunities for growth. Effective leaders do not shy away from confronting difficult truths but instead, address them head-on to foster transparency and trust among their followers.

Changing from defining reality to expressing gratitude marks another crucial aspect of leadership. While leaders must often make tough decisions and navigate through adversity, they must also acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of their team members. Expressing gratitude leads to a positive work environment, boosts morale, and strengthens interpersonal relationships, ultimately contributing to the overall success of the organization.

Servant leadership

Servant leadership is based around a paradigm shift from traditional hierarchical models of leadership. Instead of viewing leadership as a position of authority or power, servant leaders prioritize serving others and meeting their needs. This approach emphasizes empathy, active listening, and humility, with the leader acting as a steward of the collective interests of the team or organization.

Research shows that servant leadership correlates positively with employee satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job performance. A study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies found that employees under servant leaders reported higher levels of trust, job satisfaction, and organizational citizenship behaviors. These findings show the effectiveness of servant leadership in fostering a supportive and conducive work environment.

Balancing service and stewardship

The art of leadership lies in striking a delicate balance between serving others and stewarding the organization’s resources and mission. While servant leadership emphasizes empathy and altruism, effective leaders must also make strategic decisions that align with the long-term goals and values of the organization.

This balance requires leaders to prioritize the well-being of their team members while also securing the sustainability and success of the organization. When encouraging a culture of servant leadership, leaders can help their team members to reach their full potential while driving innovation and achieving collective goals.

Impact on followers

Leadership extends beyond individual actions and decisions to have a profound impact on followers and the organization as a whole. True leaders inspire and support their followers in reaching their full potential, fostering a sense of purpose, belonging, and fulfillment within the team.

Research conducted by Gallup found that teams led by highly engaged leaders are 21% more productive and 59% less likely to experience turnover. These findings highlight the tangible benefits of effective leadership on organizational performance and employee well-being.

Cultivation of true leaders

Cultivating true leaders involves identifying and nurturing individuals who demonstrate the potential to inspire and influence others positively. This process requires leaders to provide mentorship, guidance, and opportunities for growth, helping emerging leaders develop their skills and leadership abilities.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that organizations with strong leadership development programs are 1.5 times more likely to be high-performing. Investing in leadership development not only strengthens the pipeline of future leaders but also contributes to a culture of continuous learning and innovation within the organization.

Challenges in explaining leadership

Despite its importance, leadership remains a complex and multifaceted concept that defies simple explanation. The abstract nature of leadership, coupled with its subjective interpretation, poses challenges in articulating its essence and principles.

One common challenge is the discrepancy between leadership theory and practice, where idealized notions of leadership may not always align with real-world experiences. Additionally, the diverse array of leadership styles and approaches further complicates efforts to define and explain leadership in a comprehensive manner.

Navigating these challenges requires a nuanced understanding of leadership dynamics and a willingness to adapt and evolve in response to changing contexts and circumstances. When embracing complexity and uncertainty, leaders can cultivate a deeper understanding of their roles and responsibilities, driving positive change and impact within their organizations.

The leader as a steward

Leadership extends beyond mere authority; it entails a profound sense of stewardship towards the institutions they serve. Unlike ownership, which often implies control and possession, stewardship emphasizes responsibility and care for the well-being of the organization and its stakeholders. This concept reframes the leader’s role from one of dominance to one of service and accountability.

Stewardship vs. ownership:

Robert Greenleaf’s concept of Servant Leadership epitomizes the idea of stewardship in leadership. It suggests that true leaders prioritize serving others and the organization’s greater good over personal gain or power. Greenleaf emphasizes the importance of leaders viewing themselves as stewards entrusted with the organization’s resources, reputation, and future. This approach fosters a culture of collaboration, empathy, and long-term sustainability.

Owing assets to institutions

Leaders owe various assets to the institutions they lead, encompassing financial stability, reputation, and human capital.

Financial health and reputation

Maintaining financial health is paramount for organizational sustainability. Leaders must continuously provide prudent financial management, including budgeting, investment, and risk management strategies. 

Providing necessary resources

Effective leaders recognize the importance of providing the necessary resources for their team members to thrive. This includes adequate funding, infrastructure, technology, and training opportunities. When investing in their people and equipping them with the tools they need, leaders let individuals perform at their best and contribute to the organization’s success.

Responsibility towards people and relationships

Leadership is fundamentally about people. Leaders have a responsibility to cultivate positive relationships within the organization, building trust, collaboration, and mutual respect. They must prioritize the well-being and development of their team members, recognizing their individual strengths, aspirations, and contributions. Nurturing a supportive and inclusive culture means leaders can create an environment where people feel valued, motivated, and engaged.

Cultivating a legacy

True leadership transcends mere accomplishments; it leaves a lasting legacy that positively impacts individuals’ lives and upholds institutional values and principles.

Qualitative impact on individuals’ lives

A leader’s legacy is measured not only by tangible achievements but also by the qualitative impact on people’s lives. Effective leaders inspire and empower others, instilling confidence, resilience, and a sense of purpose. They mentor and develop future leaders, leaving behind a legacy of mentorship and empowerment that continues to shape the organization long after they’re gone.

Upholding institutional values and principles

Leaders are custodians of the organization’s values and principles, which serve as guiding lights in decision-making and behavior. These values and leading by example helps leaders establish a culture of integrity, ethics, and accountability. 

Fostering future leadership

A crucial aspect of stewardship is the identification, development, and nurturing of future leaders who will carry forward the organization’s legacy and values.

Importance of institutional culture and continuity

Leadership transitions are inevitable, and effective succession planning is essential for continuity and stability. Leaders must instill a strong institutional culture based on shared values, norms, and traditions that transcend individual leaders. Embedding these values into the fabric of the organization means leaders provide a smooth transition of leadership and maintain momentum towards achieving strategic objectives.

Roving leadership

Roving leadership is a dynamic approach to leadership that acknowledges the diverse strengths and situational adaptability of individuals within an organization. Unlike traditional hierarchical models where leadership is centralized, roving leadership lets individuals step into leadership roles as needed, depending on their unique skills and the demands of the situation.

Roving leadership recognizes that not all leaders possess the same qualities or excel in every situation. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of identifying individuals with specific strengths or talents and allowing them to take the lead when their expertise is most relevant. This approach fosters a culture of collaboration and innovation, as it harnesses the full potential of each team member.

In practice, roving leadership involves identifying individuals with specialized skills or expertise and letting them lead in their respective areas. For example, a team member with exceptional communication skills might take the lead in facilitating meetings or resolving conflicts, while someone with technical expertise may lead a project requiring specialized knowledge.

Situational leadership is a key aspect of roving leadership, as it recognizes that different situations call for different leadership styles. Leaders must be able to adapt their approach based on the needs of the moment, whether that involves providing direction and support or delegating authority to others. 

Roving leadership offers several advantages over traditional leadership models. Digging into  the diverse strengths of team members means organizations can tap into a wider range of expertise and creativity. This leads to more innovative solutions, faster problem-solving, and increased adaptability to changing circumstances. Additionally, roving leadership promotes a culture of empowerment and trust, as team members feel valued for their unique contributions and are given the autonomy to make decisions in their areas of expertise.

Differentiating living values from fashions

Living values are those principles and beliefs that endure over time and guide ethical behavior and decision-making. In contrast, fashions are fleeting trends or superficial practices that lack substance or lasting significance. Differentiating between living values and fashions requires a discerning mindset and a commitment to upholding timeless principles of integrity, honesty, and fairness.

Living at the edge

Living at the edge refers to accepting the challenge of navigating complexity and uncertainty with simplicity and clarity. In a modern market, leaders must balance the demands of complexity with the need for simplicity. Seeking simplicity beyond complexity means leaders can cut through the noise and focus on what truly matters, leading to greater efficiency, innovation, and effectiveness.

Embracing ambiguity and diversity

Leadership in the 21st century requires an embrace of ambiguity and diversity. Ambiguity is inherent in complex and rapidly changing environments, requiring leaders to adapt and make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Diversity, meanwhile, brings a wealth of perspectives and experiences to the table, enriching decision-making and fostering creativity. When embracing ambiguity and diversity, leaders can navigate the complexities of the modern world with confidence and agility.

Viewing leadership as a privilege and responsibility

Leadership is both a privilege and a responsibility, carrying with it the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Effective leaders recognize the impact they have on their teams, organizations, and communities, and they approach their roles with humility, integrity, and empathy. Upholding values of civility, respect, and inclusivity helps leaders create environments where individuals thrive and contribute their best work. Ultimately, leadership is about supporting others, helping with growth, and leaving a positive legacy that inspires future generations.

Alexander Procter

April 3, 2024

9 Min