In my teaching, coaching, and speaking I often find myself coming back to the topic of leading transformative change in community. These discussions often focus on how we might shape a culture marked by creativity, a spirit of curiosity, exploration, discovery…and also of appreciation for the unique perspective and contribution present in each person we meet. And if we hope to see these sorts of transformation take place, we need to consider a different paradigm of leadership than what many of us have been taught or shown.
So often, “leaders” are seen as the “most talented doer”; the expert, the one with the most aptitude, the one who drives for results, the one with a vision, and the one who is skilled at getting others to join the effort to enact and implement that vision. Those characteristics are not inherently bad or wrong…but they fall short of the type of leader we truly need in order to cultivate communities where creativity and transformative change are sustainable.
Leaders might be soft-spoken or outspoken; they might be prone to drive for results or they might be more attuned to caring for the emotional needs of those they lead. They might be the most talented doer, and they might not…though, the more they emphasize their own indispensable talent for doing within the larger community or organization, the less likely they’re actually leading.
Because leadership is influence and leaders are culture creators.
Leaders are different from managers – the distinction can get fuzzy in practice because there are plenty leaders who hold a management position, just as managers can be found in positions of leadership.
A manager is someone who works within a particular culture. The best managers can feel the pulse of the culture; they ensure the system is in balance and that all systems are functioning well. They are focused on maintaining the culture and are often committed to fine-tuning, improving, and maximizing aspects within the culture…to preserve the culture. As the name suggests, managers manage.
Many conversations about leadership are really about management. And the culture in which those managers are managing is typically NOT one of creativity and transformational change…so it isn’t surprising that this leadership-as-management approach yields disappointing tweaks instead of transformations.
That does not mean we should dismiss the value of management or managers. It certainly does not mean that managers aren’t necessary for the health of our communities, teams, and organizations. To the contrary, they are quite essential. Again, managers help make sure that the system is operating effectively…even if it is a decentralized, creative, seemingly-chaotic, fluid, and experimental system.
Yet, we also need leadership. Not the implement-my-vision-on-my-terms, command-and-control model of leadership, and also not the maintain-the-system-at-all costs management model of leadership.
Leaders go beyond managing culture – they shape and create both culture and community. Leaders leave behind the fearful hoarding of power and control – they unleash, nurture, and encourage the potential, the genius, the calling, the vision in those around them.
And as they do, they help shape the culture and foster a more transformative type of community.