By Chris Chittenden
“Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation”
... William Arthur Wood
William Wood’s words speak to what we see as effective leadership. At Talking About, we hold the view that the most effective leadership is NOT based in the direct and aggressive use of power and fear, although many people who we call “leaders” seem to believe it is. In our view, domination and intimidation speak more to the maintenance of power than to developing willing followers, which we see as the basis of effective leadership.
The key word here is “willing”. There are a number of ways of defining someone’s willingness. It can be said that willingness can be created out of fear, but such willingness relates to avoidance rather than committed engagement. Aggressive use of power readily stimulates this type of “willingness” as those being led seek to avoid pain and conflict. In many ways such willingness is born out of a lack of choice – engage or suffer the consequences. Such willingness can best be maintained by the regular use of aggression. Hence you will often see some leaders use an aggressive style at various times to ensure “motivation”. The outcome of such a style over time is that those being led tend to become stressed and withdrawn.
We prefer the idea that “willingness” comes from an uninhibited choice. In this definition, people move to action because they want to and see the benefits for themselves, not because they feel they have to. This speaks to Wood’s idea of inspiration and cooperation. We believe that such an approach generates better organisational and personal outcomes.
One idea that gets thrown up with this distinction of “willingness” is that people will choose the extent to which they follow someone’s lead. If you are seeking to lead others, this begs the question, “How can I inspire others to follow me?” Here we come to a simple thought that is consistent with coaching. An effective leader has to be going somewhere and that somewhere is, by definition, in the future. Even though we all spend a considerable amount of time speaking and thinking about the past, our future always lies ahead of us. Inspired leadership connects people to a future that engages them – one that they can see as being beneficial for themselves. So it follows that aspiring leaders can create an identity of someone who engages in conversations that connect people to the future.
This may sound obvious, however our experience is most people do not do this very well. To connect people to the future, we can think about what the future may bring; we can ask questions that are future focused; we can encourage conversations that explore new possibilities. Most people can do this, but tend not to. They prefer to look backwards and try to explain the past. They ask “why” rather than “what do I want to create?”
If you lead others or aspire to leadership, we invite you to reflect on how much you focus on the future and engage in conversations with others about future possibilities. You may well find your own inspiration in doing so.
© 2005 Chris Chittenden