Simon Terry

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The Cancer called Strong Leadership

Cancer begins when a cell abandons it purpose in the body and begins to replicate. Because cancer cells look like healthy cells, they defeat the body’s defences. Cancer kills because invasive cells strangle the healthy ones.

‘Strong Leadership’ is a cancer. With three word slogans, assertiveness and decisiveness, strong leadership tricks people into comfort, rather than defence. By refusing to admit error or debate, strong leadership rapidly becomes dangerously comfortable. Suddenly strong leadership replicates rapidly squeezing out real leadership.

‘Strong leadership’ is direction. As a style, direction works in a limited range of leadership scenarios where actions are predictable and little flexibility is required. Direction requires little or no trust. Direction doesn’t allow for the system to learn or even admit mistakes. The more complicated and complex the scenarios the more unhealthy direction is.

We are in a highly complex and interdependent world. Simple direction won’t cut it any more. We need to engage the learning and human potential of everyone. To do that we need to influence and we need to inspire. We will need to collaborate and consult the ideas of others. We will need to learn adaptive as we take the opportunities around us to make change. The work of making the future will belong to everyone, not just ‘leaders’.

The danger we face is that strong leadership strangles the debate and engagement required. Taking the high ground of comfort, strong leadership replicates at the expense of the leadership practices required.

The future of leadership won’t seem as clear cut and may even feel risky. We won’t be as certain as what we are doing. We will be more certain as to where we are going and why. We can have confidence in our own abilities. Let us put our faith in our own potential and the potential of others.


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