Have you ever thought about this? Even though leadership has existed since the time human beings were born, why is there so much talk about it in recent times? Why are leadership and the study of leadership being taught as subjects of late?
It reminds me of an episode from I Love Lucy. For the younger lot, this was a black-and-white popular American physical comedy show. Lucy's husband Ricky Ricardo walks into the living room one day where he sees Lucy on all fours looking for something. He asks her what she was doing. She says she is looking for her earrings that she lost in the bedroom. Surprised, he asked her," Why are you looking for them here in the living room then?" She answers," Because there is more light here."
The study of leadership has been the same way. Because it expands across countries, industries and fields it has taken very long to be classified and documented. In fact, this is very much a work in progress and will be for a long time.
Although the study of leadership can be dated back to Plato, San Tzu and all the Indian, Greek and Roman Gods, leadership has only become the focus of contemporary academic studies in the last few decades.
Leadership is now both a research area and a practical skill, hence it can be learnt. Good leadership draws on many different principles. The study of leadership is a multi-disciplinary approach.
Leadership principles are derived from neuroscience, positive psychology, change management, organisational behaviour, management principles, history, philosophy, and sociology. Much of the confusion surrounding leadership as a field of study may be attributed to a lack of understanding regarding the transdisciplinary, inter- and multi-disciplinary academic fields of study in general.
Each discipline, which also encompasses a host of sub-areas, is filled with definitions, theories, styles, functions, competencies and historical examples of successful, unsuccessful and diverse leaders. Collectively, the research findings on leadership provide a far more sophisticated and complex view of the phenomenon than most of the simplistic views presented in the popular parlance.
Most people who have developed into great leaders have done so through a lot of struggle, learning, application and perseverance. It need not be that drastic any more. If one can just recognise the desire to be more than who they are as a person today, they start themselves on the path of developing as a leader.
The other issue with understanding leadership is that it is a behaviour. Behaviours are personal and individual and changing those take time. That is the reason leaders are developed and not trained. Companies expecting one workshop to bring a change in employee behavior is an unreasonable ask. This is also the reason why most leadership development programmes are only in workshop format. Because of the nuanced nature of using neuroscience in the delivery of these programmes, only a thorough adult learning facilitator and subject matter expert can do the job effectively.
Another point which is not realised by many is that the bedrock of developing leadership is coaching. Coaching, not as most people understand it: Teaching and training someone. It is according to the International Coaching Federation: "Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential." Understanding of coaching competencies, can lead to a better understanding of leadership; at least that worked for me. Coaching and mentoring are two different things. Mentoring is when someone guides you based on their own similar experiences. In fact, coaching is the opposite of mentoring in the way that you need to come up with the best solutions based on your own situation and no one else's.
Truly, leadership is about the person, a human being in its essence. A founder of a successful startup said to me once, I should have paid more attention to organisational and people behaviour in my MBA; you can always hire people for all areas of a business like accounts, strategy, marketing, but you cannot replace yourself to work with your team and people.
To learn more about leadership, start reading on any of the disciplines listed and see where the trail leads you in your own leadership journey.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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