In many discussions with leaders as I walk them through the journey from transactional to transformational approaches to leadership, I’m often presented with the concern that, while all this sounds good, ‘where am I supposed to find the time to develop this on top of all the other things I need to get done?’
Leaders often consider they lack the necessary skills, knowledge, capacity and experience to be truly effective leaders, and particularly in the public sector, identify the role and responsibility for system leadership and strategy as sitting elsewhere – feeling they should be left to ‘get on with the day job’. Afterall, there are lots of people with ‘Strategy’ in their job titles, why can’t we just let them get on and do it?
I often think this perspective, while completely understandable, points to a fundamental issue with the way leadership and strategy are often presented. Leadership and strategy aren’t additionalities that we need to make time for. They are an inherent part of who we are and how we approach our roles as leaders.
For example, we often mystify strategy as something only experts can do. But even not having a tangible strategy is in itself a strategy. It is a decision based on the resources available and the understanding of the task at hand. To travel from A to B is still the expression and realisation of a strategy, even if we can’t easily articulate our intentions.
The same is true with leadership. If we know and accept that we’re responsible for the delivery of a vision, the lack of an expressed vision does not mean we’re not leading. We still have resources to manage, people to mobilise, bottom lines to maintain, stakeholders to satisfy.
On the whole, the leaders I speak to tend to be able to realise their intentions. They, even if inadvertently, are leading.
But, as we realise increasing levels of complexity, with demands arriving from ever-increasing sources, expectations upon us growing, uncertainty broadening, workforce challenges entrenching, we as leaders cannot simply expect to continue to do it all.
Increasing complexity calls for increasing collaborations, both externally and with growing importance, internally with our own people – other leaders, managers and the workforce.
Rather than seeing transformational leadership as one other thing we need to do, it’s helpful to consider leadership as the rising tide that increases everyone's ability to shoulder the burden in a more complex environment.
Systemic considerations of leadership see investments in the people around us so they ‘get’ the overall vision, see their own role through that lens and are empowered and enabled to lead, collaboratively so that the whole team is unified in its activities and directions.
Change is never easy, ‘otherwise everyone would be doing it’. But once we accept that increasing complexity isn’t going away anytime soon, the only realistic response is to recognise the need to reach out and collaborate more.
In doing so, our own approaches to leadership and strategy start to take shape in ways we can begin to articulate to ourselves and others.
We then very quickly come to realise that leadership is not just one more thing we need to do.
It’s inherently what we do.