Spatial Leadership

By Chris Chittenden

“Leadership is the ability to lift and inspire.”

… Paul Dietzel (1924 - ) US football coach

Continuing our recent theme about leadership, this month we would like to explore the link between meaning and leadership.

One of the key drivers for a human being is to make sense out of his or her world and create meaning in life. Meaning comes from the things that are important to us – the people and things we value. As we have seen in previous articles, human beings can be seen to make sense of what they observe based on the context within which they observe it. This context can be seen in part as our existing beliefs, stories and feelings of how things are and how we would like them to be. At an organisational level, this can be defined as organisational culture.

One way of looking at how this space is best created is to break it into four distinct yet mutually supporting domains – what we want to achieve; our self-story; our personal growth and development; and our relationships with others. If leaders are to lift and inspire, then they have to create a common sense of meaning for the people they lead. To do this, they have to constantly work on creating an appropriate and shared context in these four areas so that people are more likely to create common meaning. This is the idea of Spatial Leadership – to create the space or context within which people move towards a common goal, feel good about themselves, optimise their potential and generate synergies and cooperation within the group.

The nature of today’s workplace is such that there is a focus on getting things done. This approach has tended to create “transactional leadership” where the focus is on what is done and not the context in which it is done. If this approach is used to the exclusion of working on the organisation’s “space”, then people lose a common purpose and sense of meaning. This can be most easily seen in the way in conversations happen each day. Those engaged in transactional leadership will simply look at what has to be done – how the key performance indicators are tracking for example. Those with an eye to spatial leadership will seek to create conversations to directly build context and take the opportunity to put transactional activity into a broader context to create meaning.

If you lead people in the workplace, consider how well you observe, design and seek to influence the space within in which others work. Listen to your conversations – the answers will lie there.

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© 2008 Chris Chittenden