8

Redefining leadership

There's a snowball's chance in hell of redefining leadership in this day and age.

(Senge, 1999:81)

In this chapter I am going to argue for a shift of focus, from an individualized conceptualization of leadership, towards leadership as a product of human community: the collective capacity to create something of value. This definition of leadership is a paraphrase of an idea of Peter Senge (Senge, Heifetz and Torbert, 2000), and his contrasting views about redefining leadership represent an interesting paradox, which I think can inform our understanding of leadership, as well as providing ideas for practice. There is little doubt about the central and continuing importance of leadership both as an organizational issue and as an organizing process. Leadership is seen as 'the number one business issue - higher even than determining customer needs' (Career Innovation Group, 2002); as the primary competency that organizations are seeking to develop (Brown and Posner, 2001); and changes in the understanding and practice of leadership constitute an important challenge for both governments and organizations in the future.

In my discussions of leadership I am going to take two unusual steps. First, I am highlighting a single definition of leadership. The fact that I am deciding on a single definition is unusual because I also think of leadership as a complex and much-contested notion, for both academics and practitioners. In academic writing, 'some writers argue that it does not exist; others suggest that it exists but doesn't make a difference to organizational performance; still others say that it exists, can make a difference, but is complex, ambiguous and paradoxical' (Palmer and Hardy, 2000:256). In the minds of practitioners, ways of understanding leadership are equally contested. For example, 'understanding that learning is both study and practice has brought us great insight into our leadership' (Steve Gibbons, Principal Financial Group, Des Moines, USA, in Gibbons, 1999) contrasts with 'you don't have time to plan. Try a bunch of things see if they work. If they don't, stop doing them. If they do, feed them' (Paul Hogan, Fleet Boston Corporation, Boston, USA, quoted in Bennis, 2001). Given the complexity and contested nature of leadership, common definitions

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Rethinking Strategic Learning
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • 1 - An Introduction 1
  • 2 - Strategic Learning and Hrd 13
  • 3 - Power, Emotion and Organizational Learning 38
  • 4 - Emotion and Strategic Learning 58
  • 5 - Being Taken Over 76
  • 6 - The Politics of Imagined Stability 91
  • 7 - Organizing Reflection 106
  • 8 - Redefining Leadership 127
  • 9 - The Point of Intervention 146
  • References 161
  • Index 170
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