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Lundi 1 Juillet 2013

Co-Created Leadership

[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Morgen Witzel*. Morgen is a Fellow of the Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter, UK.]

David Burkus
David Burkus
We all know the conventional view of leadership; leaders are the people with authority, power and control. They are beings of superior intelligence and intellect. Their vision and their example inspire the rest of us. We act because our leaders tell us to act. Leaders lead, and followers follow.

That view has of course been challenged. For example, the idea of servant leadership, as described by Ronald Greenleaf and others, to some extent turns this model on its head. Here the leader puts the interests of the organisation first, and subordinates his own desires to the needs of the organisation. While this is an interesting model, it still puts the emphasis squarely on the leader. Success – or failure – continues to depend on the skills, attributes and competencies of the leader as individual.

Now, leadership theorists are questioning whether it is only the individual that matters. In their book Exploring Leadership, published late last year, Richard Bolden, Beverly Hawkins and Jonathan Gosling from the Centre for Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter and Scott Taylor from the University of Birmingham argue for quite a different picture of leadership. They see leadership as ‘social process’, something that happens in the interaction between people, rather than the simple exercise of authority by one person over others. In other words, leadership is something that you do with people, not to people.

The more we think about this concept, the more it makes sense. After all, a leader on his or her own is pretty much powerless; without ‘followers’, nothing can be done. The whole concept of leadership, as John Adair said, is ‘getting things done through other people’. But people are not robots. They have their own views, their own ideas, their own thoughts about how things should be done. When our leaders tell us what they want us to do, we react. Sometimes we react positively, agree with the leader as to what should be done, and do it. Sometimes we react negatively, and either refuse the task or modify it to suit ourselves.

In turn, leaders react to what we do. They modify their own behaviour in accordance with what is going on in the organisation around them. So, say Bolden and his colleagues, the process of leadership is actually a process of interaction, between leaders and others. Whether leadership succeeds depends on the quality of that interaction, and it could be argued that competencies and traits of the ‘followers’ are just as important as those of the leader.

And, we can extend this idea further. There are strong similarities with the concept that marketers call ‘co-creation’, the notion that brands are created jointly by the company and its customers and the views and attitudes of the latter contribute greatly to brand value. We also know that the interactions between customers, the stories they tell each other in person and on-line, quite independently of the company also serve to reinforce – or detract from – brand value. It is the same with leadership. The effectiveness of a leader depends on how well ‘followers’ interact with each other, not just with the leader himself or herself.

A Roman senator looked out of his window one day to see a mob of people go down the street, waving banners and chanting. He rushed out of the house and ran after them. ‘Where you are going?’ asked a friend. ‘There go my people’, said the senator. ‘I must go after them, so that I may find out where they want me to lead them.’ The story may or may not be true. Either way, it is an excellent example of co-created leadership.

* www.morgenwitzel.com/

David Burkus is a professor of management at Oral Roberts University and editor of LDRLB, an online think tank that offers insights from research on leadership, innovation and strategy.

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