The Changing Face of Leadership…

For years I have read, been taught, been lead, been mentored and instructed on the ways that managers and leaders can inspire and generate followers… but are things changing???

There are many ideas and directions leadership books and mentors direct us.  John Maxwell’s approach of developing your leadership skills through developing the ability to ask great questions has, to my mind, been one of the greatest lessons in leadership and one I believe.  In his book ‘Good Leaders ask Great Questions’ he gives examples as to how the use of questions rather than directions has really developed his ability to inspire, lead and manage businesses.

Now as for leadership… the traits of leaders… the approach of leaders… the qualities of leaders have all been explored in a variety of books and in a variety of ways.  All have their merits and all outline core elements of decision making, consistency, communication, emotional intelligence, adaptability, clarity, balance and many other appropriate skills and attitudes.  Virtually all revolve around the development of leaders to create followers… the Leader-Follower model.

The Leader/Follower approach has been accepted as being the way of organisations for as long as there have been organisations to have leaders and followers… under the Leader/Follower approach many great things have been achieved.  That is not to say that an organisation has to have just 1 leader… there can be many leaders.  Indeed, within the organisation leaders may become followers in different situations and indeed the followers may be the leaders as the situation demands.  Generally, however organisations slip into a cascading pyramid of top down leadership.

Now when building teams throughout my career I made many mistakes and learnt many lessons…  I tried being a directional manager and wondered why my team demonstrated no initiative.  I tried being a hands-off manager and wondered why my team lacked focus.  I tried developing an inspirational approach and found that in a mid-level management position by team followed but we were isolated and our approach was soon lost.

After 15 years as a manager and increasingly as a leader, I settled into the ‘people development through empowerment, support and trust approach’ (well that was what I aspired to anyway)… which worked for me… most of the time.  I used questions to encourage desirable actions and behaviours from my team and I encouraged them to make and justify decisions.  I used Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager to develop my management skills.  Overall I was able to develop consistent and productive teams with above average performance and below average management intervention.   I view this as a win:win.


Perhaps this was a step ahead of many of my peers and despite the break from the more traditional views of my managers and directors.  At various points my approach was questioned, however over time I had a proven record of building successful teams.  At no point would I claim to be a leadership guru… but by using my experience, learning and choosing my approach I have reached the point where I am an effective manager and I have the ability to ‘lead’.  In this I am not alone, there are many great managers and great leaders who operate with a similar approach.

So where is the changing face of leadership?

For me David Marquet has challenged the foundations of leadership in his book Turn That Ship Around.  In his book he outlines many traditional ‘empowerment’ tools, although he questions the use of ‘empowerment’ as a mechanism for passing authority.  He also brings in various effective management and leadership tools, ranging from procedural to lingual.

The leadership change that David Marquet brought to my attention is a simple one, almost obvious, and yet so overlooked.  His aim through leadership is to create a leader: leader culture rather than a leader: follower culture…  Do not be mistaken, on this premise the leadership skills and lessons from hundreds of leadership books remain relevant, it is just the angle, the output that changes.  as a leader, your role is to create a team prepared to use their understanding and abilities to take ownership of their positions.