The longer I go, the more I become convinced that “leadership” — whatever it actually is — is something that we only discover on the way to something else. The recovery of leadership may well begin when we stop trying to find it.
Of course, the immediate objection is “everything rises and falls on leadership!” That’s certainly what we made the culprit, and it is true that the success of an endeavor does rise and fall on something or somebody. But it may be that our modern obsession with leadership as the silver bullet of organizational success is a flaw that keeps us from seeing the more essential ingredients of what makes things work.
The more valuable journey is to better understand what organizations actually are, how they work, and what it looks like when they work well. For instance, the work of Edgar Schein in organizational psychology and development offers more meaningful insights and language than much contemporary leadership study. His seminal career book, Humble Inquiry, cuts through a lot of the fog of oversimplified leadership principles to the heart of asking humble questions as the catalyst for trust, creativity, collaboration, and innovation in a community. It’s not what leaders do, its what people working together do that makes things work.
Likewise, Patrick Lencioni has focused significantly on understanding and overcoming the dysfunctions of teams, and more recently, the advantages of thinking in terms of organizational health. The healthy relationships and interactions of people is the essential thing that drives organizational life.
For both of these authors, leadership is something that emerges along the way and almost incidentally in the journey toward understanding dynamic human social relationships in the work environment.
Instead of focusing on leadership as the only thing that really counts, the better thing is to focus on what makes a healthy organization, one characterized by enthusiasm, freedom, collaboration, imagination, trust, creativity, and productivity. Health-minded leaders, whether leaders by virtue of position or respect, do the following 4 things. Its not the leadership per se, but the climate they produce in which healthy relationships and healthy work naturally happens.
Healthy organizations are ones that have great clarity about their Purpose, their Priorities, their People, and their Processes. Health-minded leaders are focused first and foremost on birthing and nurturing such clarity. They are driven by asking and helping answer “Why?”
Developing people in their passions, abilities, and potential is the core of dynamic human community. Health-minded leaders are focused on people and helping people become all they came be.
For people to truly flourish, they need the space that is simultaneously safe and challenging. Health-minded leaders create the environment where people are free to pursue their dreams, take risks and fail forward, grow their skills, contribute to society, build relationships, and have meaningful work.
Healthy organizations consist of people with a fire in their belly that today’s dreams actually can and do become tomorrow’s reality. Health-minded leaders fan the flames of inspiration and hope not merely by words but by persistent action to remove the obstacles that stand in the way.