From this perspective, leadership is the potential outcome of interactions between groups of people rather than specific traits or skills of a single person. This definition is also more inclusive and therefore relevant to any organisation in any culture. If the tasks of direction, commitment and alignment are being achieved, then leadership is taking place.
Setting direction is the articulation of mission, vision, values and purposes. Key questions include: Where are we going? What are we going to do? Why are we doing it? If a CEO articulates a compelling mission, for example setting direction, then that is an example of leadership. If a project team effectively focuses on a clear mission, then leadership is taking place within the group.
Building commitment involves the creation of mutual trust and accountability, including addressing questions such as: How can we stay together? How can we work better as a group? What steps might improve cooperation? If a team restructures and rebuilds together to confront a critical challenge and develop greater trust and respect, building commitment through their interactions, then that is leadership.
Creating alignment involves finding common ground and areas of interrelated responsibility. People need to ask: How can we develop a shared understanding of our situation? How can our actions be better coordinated? If a cross-functional group reaches across organizational boundaries to align IT systems - creating alignment - then that, too, is leadership.
Research shows that organisations are underperforming against all three of these criteria, so there is much work to be done on developing leadership effectively.
But we are seeing movement from more individual approaches (that is, leadership as a position) to those that are more collective (that is, leadership as a process). This movement is expected to continue as we move towards greater reliance on interdependent decision-making.
Respondents involved in the study hoped organisations would be better at integrating this new approach with existing systems and requirements. For example, focusing less on 'making the numbers' and individual performance in the future, and increasing the focus on such areas as teamwork, long-term objectives and innovations.
Source: Complex challenges and the new leadership. Leading effectively: a collective approach
André Martin, Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, North Carolina
Leading Effectively e-Newsletter, January 2006
Review by Roger Trapp