Unexamined Assumptions Around Leadership

by Elaine on August 22, 2012

Recently, a number of us from European consultancies and universities met to discuss and question the state of leadership amid the global financial crisis. Had the drive for material advantage yielded leadership that was neither uniting nor fulfilling? Would renouncing hierarchical leadership in favour of flat teams beckon in a more sustainable and systemic business practice? It was a lively and creative debate but there was a serious omission in our discussion and, once it surfaced, our omission revealed much about the trajectory of our thinking. We had been dealing primarily with our own most immediate issues. Those that we encounter daily in organisational life. We were analyzing the developmental needs of the leaders in situ to the exclusion of the emerging talent pool. As such, we had been neglecting how the leadership apprentices in their twenties as the next generation of leaders might be mobilized to carry the burdens and take up the opportunities of leading on into the next decade.

The surprising aspect of this omission is that both authors are mothers of, taken together, nine young adults and as such our emotional lives are encased in their struggles, joys and dilemmas. We hear on a daily basis their conversations, dreams, relationship dramas, fears and shackles. So, it was striking to us that, despite living day-to-day with young minds, our attention had been almost exclusively orientated to the existing confederacy of leaders. This said much to us about our own and the group’s structures of reasoning, not to mention the communities of practice of which we are part. With some amazement, we realized that our filters had predisposed us to focus on what we already knew to be “true”- that the solution lies with the current leaders.

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