Here in the United States, we have been hearing a lot about leadership lately. Of course, recent political struggles have played a role in this discussion as well as off-year local / regional elections held in some parts of the country. In addition, leadership has been pressured because we live in a time of disruption.
What do we mean when we say that we are in a time of disruption? We mean that circumstances in the world have required us to examine closely the status quo. These circumstances may be tied to troubles such as economic pressures, climate change, declining religious and moral standards, and international threats, but may also include more positive, but still challenging issues with regards to technology, integrating expanded civil rights models, and so forth.
To get us through these times, we might call upon leaders in our community to play a significant role in uplifting our society. To do so successfully, these leaders may have to call upon a different sort of leadership model than what may have worked in the past. In the remaining portion of the blog, I would like to highlight some of the features of what may be a more positive role of leaders.
First, it is important for leaders to be involved and have knowledge and/or direct access to the information they need in order to make successful decisions. If the decision does not fall into the leader’s direct purview (as may be the case of some politicians, for example), they must still be informed and briefed about the major components of the decision. Moreover, if the leader is considered the ultimate authority, they have the ultimate authority. As the sign on Henry S. Truman’s desk said “The buck stops here.” Truman understood that he was responsible for everything done in the executive and military side of government, which were his constitutional responsibility. The leader must always seek to attend to responsibility no matter how great or small the consequence of the decisions being made. Personal responsibility is key to leadership because the individual owns the result at a personal level.
The leader must also be analytic. As with everything else in society, it is extremely important that the leader be able to gather and utilize information to the fullest advantage. It is not enough necessarily to have the tools to be able to make effective decisions one also has to know how to use these tools.
While we do expect leaders to be analytic and responsible, the role of human emotion might also play a role. For example, it shows leadership if an individual is able to connect with others. In an increasingly interconnected world, complete detachment is likely not an effective leadership strategy. A leader must be able to find balance between the analytic and the emotional aspects of a decision.
As the world has become interconnected, decisions have also become more collaboratively based. That is to say, decisions are not always made in despotic ways anymore. People at all levels expect to be involved in the decision making process. Even a traditional leader can utilize people’s decisions and make them feel as if they are part of the process. Because of collaboration, we even need to question more traditional markers of hierarchy. While some remains of hierarchy can still be seen, the more collaborative world poses a challenge of continued over-reliance on the hierarchy in many contexts. While there may be one ultimate authority, the burden of leadership does not always fall simply to one person, but is instead a collaborative process.
Finally, it is important for leaders to be able to project hope even while being able to communicate in stark terms about problems. In a rapidly changing world, it is easy for people to want to lose hope. Leaders must be realistic about the problems that people face, but they must not give up themselves. Taking things in a historical and social context, these individuals must be able to project solutions, confidence, or reassurance that things will eventually get better. Giving up is not a good option. Having a solution is leadership.
As the world changes, leadership must also change with it. We do need to study and learn from the past. I am not suggesting that we necessarily throw out leadership lessons from the past. Indeed, history can be quite applicable to our own time. What I would suggest is that we should not assume that the status quo is necessarily going to be able to continue to provide effective leadership. Innovative, bold solutions and non-traditional leadership models, on the other hand, may be more effective in solving some of the world’s most pressing issues.