Ever had a topic you needed to tackle that felt huge, even, at times, overwhelming? Maybe it was finance at one point in your career. Maybe it was service operations, or interpersonal conflict. For me it was leadership.
I wanted to know everything there is to know about leadership (still do). So I started by consulting the oracle and found that if you Google leadership books, you get 8,170,000 results in 0.44 seconds.
Well, it would take 44 years to read them all – that’s not happening!
So I took a different tack, and it’s one I suggest to you with any such big topic you want to tackle, because it has a magical effect on that feeling of being swamped.
- Think of all the questions you have about the topic – any and every one, until you’ve completely exhausted your imagination.
- When you’ve finished, check in with that overwhelmed feeling
- Question: how’s it feel?
- Answer: surprisingly good. Like you’ve tamed a monster
Since you’re reading this blog, you must be interested in this same topic. Have a read of the list below and see how it feels.
- Why is leadership such a complex topic? Why are there so many books on leadership? And why does every one seem to be proposing ‘the answer’ or the definitive word and yet they’re all different? How do you make them all add up?
- What do we mean by leadership? How does one define leadership? Where should one start in thinking about the topic? What is the difference between a leader and a manager? Is there a meaningful distinction to be made between a leader and leadership? If someone leads, does that make everyone else a follower? You have to have followers, otherwise you’re not a leader, but isn’t being a follower bad? [Remember that old cartoon: ‘If you’re not the lead dog, the view is always the same,’ ie looking up some other dog’s you-know-what!] What are other roles to play besides leader and follower?
- What are the different domains of leadership? If you’re a leader, how do you break the task down into manageable chunks? How does leadership differ from one domain to the next e.g. personal v. team v. organization; e.g. head v. heart v. hands; e.g. body v. mind v. soul; e.g. internal v. external; e.g. home v. work; e.g. marriage v. family v. community. Are these all the same as the different domains of existence for a regular person, only if you’re a leader there’s something extra to do?
- Does only one person lead at a time? Do we all share some responsibility for leadership, and if so, how is that adjudicated? What successful alternatives / models are there and when / where / how does each best apply? How do you get leadership at every level? What does this mean? Would everyone be a hologram of the top guy? What organization model or image is most compatible with this idea? How would you create it, ie what organizational engagement would be required?
- Don’t we all have to lead, at some fundamental level – you lead your life, right? What are people trying to accomplish: in their lives, their work / family / community, on this planet, in this lifetime? Why are we here? Are there things common to all we should set out as a baseline, onto which individuals can add something unique to / for / of themselves?
- Why do people want to be leaders? What motivates someone to lead? What are motivations of today’s leaders? How does that compare to motivations of past leaders? What is motivating tomorrow’s leaders (or not) to want to become leaders? How do they want to do things differently than today’s leaders or past leaders? What do they see in today’s or past leaders that they think worth emulating?
- How do you lead a top management team? How do you get a top team hitting on all cylinders?
- How do you lead an organization? How does that differ from leading a team? From leading your life? How does engagement figure into leadership? Can one reduce the leadership task to something as simple as ‘aligned engagement of all in achieving organizational goals’?
- How do leaders make decisions? Does decision making differ as a function of the organizational entity being led?
- How does competition figure in to leadership? How about collaboration? Do people naturally compete or naturally collaborate, neither or both?
- How does authority figure into the discussion? Is authority different from leadership? How? What are the different types of authority? When and how does the nature of authority vary?
Interesting list, no? Exhaustive but not exhausting, in fact, energizing. If you can add anything, please let me know! Questions only, please.
A final note. I didn’t stop after making the above list; I started reading. In making my way through those 8,170,000 leadership books out there, I found one that I’d recommend that takes this same line of inquiry. The Oxford University Press publishes a series of books with the title ‘A Very Short Introduction to _______.’ If you like these questions, you’ll love the book on leadership in this series, by Keith Grint of the University of Warwick.
Comments? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Email me at email@example.com