Ask what it means to be a ‘good leader’ and most of us would be able to provide a decent description. We might imagine a king on his throne, surveying his subjects and his land, ruling with the implacable iron fist that has been his family’s stock in trade for centuries. Or the brave warrior, leading her troops, powered by a deep sense of conviction. For many people, notions of leadership are rooted in such traditional cultural archetypes.
Against this backdrop, new theoretical modes and models of leadership have sprung up as frequently as most of us change our socks. But a core belief underpins most of them: that there is a ‘gold standard’ for leadership, a sort of platonic ideal that we all need to be taught.
Business schools each offer multiple different programmes on leadership, implying that the development journey is vast, life-long and uniform. This line of argument is helpful if you want to make money from learning and development. How well it serves the business community is another question altogether. A definition of leadership that is rooted in static, idealised archetypes is not fit for the world in which we now find ourselves.
Why there is no one-size-fits-all type of leadership
We are working in more complex and challenging environments than ever. This is not just merely a feeling and there is much research to back up how disruptive the world of today is, but consider this: it took 75 years for the telephone to reach 50 million users, Twitter took just nine months and Pokémon nine days.
This speeding up means many of us in business live in fear of being overtaken by events–technology-related and otherwise. strategy& spoke to executives, managers, and employees around the world and found that half believe their company doesn’t have the capabilities to ensure change is sustained in the long term. And that’s just the change people know is necessary now–not future events that we can’t predict.
What does this mean for leaders? In simple terms, the pace and nature of today’s working world demands a more dynamic and adaptable form of leadership. The world is too complex for any static, one-size-fits-all mode or model to stand a realistic chance of success.
Even if it could, there is an additional problem: we are all individuals with different strengths, weaknesses and preferences. What works well for one might not for another.
Successful leadership comes from within
Dynamic leadership can be defined as the process of activating our own potential in accordance with the needs of the present moment. The key to it is to be found within the individual. It is focused not on the pursuit of some unattainable standard of excellence. Rather, it is grounded in the value of the individual as a creative, adaptable, unique and resilient source of inspiration and guidance for others. Such leadership involves constant vigilance around your own behaviour and nurturing of your best self.
Dynamic leadership is also essential for the health and wellbeing of the leader. A life spent in pursuit of some abstract gold standard drains energy and self-esteem. But by embracing a more individualised sense of what leadership is, leaders can focus on bringing the best out of ourselves and helping others do the same each and every day. It’s an enabler to sustaining performance, precisely because it delivers frequent, energy-giving moments of achievement.