Simon Terry

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5 Ghosts of Leadership Past

Halloween is a time to remember those no longer with us and to laugh at those shades who have not left us. In leadership some ghosts of past leadership styles still haunt us.  They are too real and too enduring.

Here are 5 ghosts of past leadership that should be allowed their rest:

1 The General

Military command and control and military hierarchy have inspired much of our thinking in both leadership and management. For some, being a general in command of troops is the model of leadership.

Except the military no longer sees it this way. The military knows good leadership that empowers and enables teams to perform at their peak makes a life or death difference. Their approach has evolved well before business. Military leaders think of empowering agile teams to outpace their opponents in decision making and change to achieve a purpose. Military leaders fight a network with a network. The modern general is far less a commander than our perception of the napoleonic era ghosts of leadership.

2 The Decision Maker

Big leaders making big decisions is the second ghost of leadership past. These ghostly apparitions believe that if the ‘buck stops here’ then it makes you a leader.  

We know hierarchy is usually a terrible way to make a decision.  Decision making by remote hierarchical leaders lacks context, impedes agility and frustrates the engagement necessary to implement decisions. Nobody loves a dictatorship. Organisations need to make decisions in responsive ways and leverage experiments to help them to learn.

3 Egotist

If Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” is the sound track to your leadership, you might be living a ghostly legacy of the days when leadership was about charisma, big profile and a way to express your ego. These ghosts live on with leaders who think that the bigger the ego boost the more influence they have.

Leadership is not about you. Leadership is how we realise the potential of others and how we achieve purposes that benefit others. Check your ego and exorcise that ghost.

4 Know it All

It is said of John Stuart Mill that he was the last person to have been taught everything there was to know in his era. Mill was exceptionally bright, but the pressure of knowing everything led to a nervous breakdown and he has been dead for over 140 years. The legacy of the all-knowing leader lives on as a ghost.

Only leadership ghosts think in our increasingly complex and fast moving age that leaders must have all the answers. Leaders must enable their organisation to know more and use it better. They do not need to be the expert. They need to know how to better leverage expertise and to enable their teams to do the same.

5 The Invisible Leader

If there are oak panelled doors between you and your team, you might as well be a ghost. Nobody is led by pronouncements from the boardroom or one-way communications. Leadership takes relationships and engagement.

These ghostly leaders need to get out and engage with their teams. Turn leadership transactions into relationships and create some real influence and accountability.

Let the Ghosts of Leadership Past Rest

Let the ghosts of leadership past rest.  Like other human interactions leadership is constantly evolving and adapting to suit the challenges of our times.  Leaders need to let go of the old models and experiment with newer and more effective ways of engaging teams, particularly in networks.


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