November 10, 2004

Three simple rules of leadership (but you're not going to like them) I have a lot of projects, coming up that deal specifically with leadership and culture. This morning I was having coffee with John Glaza of the Long Beach Nonprofit Partnership. We were talking about effective leadership and organizational motivation when I realized that my growing cynicism could be boiled down to three simple rules of emergent leadership. I'm not going to say that these are the only rules of leadership, certainly. That's probably just as well, since I'm pretty sure these three rules are going to be unpopular -- especially if you agree with me. #1 Leadership Is Emergent: Leaders have followers Leadership is neither a benefit nor a burden that automatically comes with an executive title. Leadership is not to be confused with terms such as management, command or executive decision-making. Leadership is not a title, simply to require respect from subordinates. The one and only one way that anyone ever becomes a leader is if and only enough others are willing to follow. Leadership depends on followership. #2 Leadership Is Emergent: Anyone who has followers is a leader If leadership depends on having people willing to follow you, then it follows that anyone can become a leader. In other words, it has nothing to do with your position in the hierarchy of the organization. As soon as people start taking your advice or emulating your actions, you are a leader. #3 Leadership Is Emergent: Leaders aren't necessarily going in the right direction Of course, if leadership is determined by having followers -- rather than by having vision or authority -- it unfortunately also follows that leaders frequently lead in the wrong direction. In other words, if a manager or worker or politician has a way of looking at the world that might be fundamentally flawed or even destructive, they can still lead if others adopt their perspective.


Steve Barth consults to international government, NGO, academic and corporate clients. Recent work has focused on organizational learning and KM strategies in economic development and peace and security. Award-winning writer specializing in organizational intelligence and knowledge worker productivity.

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