Leadership in ONE step
Updated: Apr 3
There are currently 15,000 or thereabouts leadership books in print. If you read three a week it would take you over a 100 years to get through them. Would you know any more than you do now? I work with leaders on a daily basis and all of them have their qualities, some questionable perhaps, but nevertheless they are leaders. But what really makes a leader?
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill certainly had a leadership pedigree when you check him out on Wikipedia and no one can help but feel the power in his famous speech:
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!” (available at: https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/quotes/famous-quotations-and-stories/).
So to be a leader, you need to learn the skills through experience? Really?
Like the rest of the world, I am gripped by the daily news from the BBC about the war in the Ukraine. I am devastated by the images of war, but I am truly inspired by Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy. Born 25 January 1978, the Ukrainian politician, former actor and comedian who is the sixth and incumbent president of Ukraine (available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volodymyr_Zelenskyy). He doesn’t have the Churchill pedigree, but he certainly knows how to lead people. Where does that skill come from?
Are leaders “born” when the situation requires? In the Stanford Prison Experiments in 1971, Philip Zimbardo said that the “guards did their roles without training from the experimenters in how to be Guards’ (Zimbardo et al., 1973). Over the space of 5 days, ordinary volunteers recruited to be “guards”inflicted increasing psychological abuse on the “prisoners” to such an extent that the experiment was ended on the sixth day (Zimbardo et al., 1973). I’m not trying to compare the outstanding leadership skills shown by Zelensky to the brutality of subjects in an experiment some considerable time ago, but I am curious about whether we all possess inherent skills which can be manifested in good or bad ways depending upon the situation.
Returning to my original question - what really makes a leader? Is social media your thing? Are you an IG or FB person? Love it or hate it, social media has created many leaders that challenge the traditional definition of leadership. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish Environmental Activist, who at the tender age of 19 years has challenged world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation and by creating a so called "Greta effect" (Watts 2019) which has connected her with a mass audience.
The Black Lives Matter campaign also highlighted that social identification is essential for a collective sense of self to emerge and that allows a leader to lead the group. This sense of “us” rather than “me” and a strong sense of humility towards the cause is really showing the way forward in future world leadership. Social Identity Theory (SIT; Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel & Turner, 1979) shows how if we train leaders to define their own identities with regard to social groups then such identifications work to protect and bolster self-identity resulting in identification with a collective, depersonalised identity based on group membership and imbued with positive aspects (Turner, et al, 1987).
The ONE step to leadership in the 2000’s is about being part of a movement for change, engaging with your teams and connecting with them with humility and a collaborative understanding of the bigger cause:
'Leadership is as much about serving as it is about taking control', says Black Lives Matter-UK organiser Boni Adeliyi, "You're not everything and you can't do it alone, so don't get caught up in your own ideas. Don't get caught up in your own ego. You need people."
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (2004). The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior. In J. T. Jost & J. Sidanius (Eds.), Political psychology: Key readings (pp. 276–293). Psychology Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203505984-16
Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Basil Blackwell.
Watts, J. (2019). "The Greta Thunberg effect: at last, MPs focus on climate change". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077.
Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). On the ethics of intervention in human psychological research: With special reference to the Stanford prison experiment. Cognition, 2(2), 243–256. https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0277(72)90014-5