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My neighbour said of a local bar: "It’s so busy nobody goes in there anymore"...

The Leadership field is much like that bar: full of people who get in front of you, talk over you, stand up when they can sit down, leave their half-finished drinks… so that you don’t want to go there again.

This leaves the field free for the brash, boisterous and the thirsty.

But don’t take my word for it - visit anywhere that seems busy and regardless of its discomforts, people still want to go there.

But what would we go to the leadership bar for? Kudos? Baying? Challenge? Though they might not acknowledge it, many people’s leadership taste is already trapped in traditional tipple.

Here are 3 of the most popular cocktails:

  1. The ‘It Must Be Good, It’s So Expensive!’ Cocktail: this is based on the trickle-down theory (also born in a bar?) that, like wealth, the more leadership at the top the better for those below who anyway, can’t afford it. Also known as ‘Business as usual’.
  2. The ‘Brawl of Ingredients Trumped by The One I like’ Cocktail: though leadership is normative - that is, value-saturated - people commonly pretend it’s not and cherry pick the ingredients they like. This then becomes what leadership should be, while it ignores what they, or others won’t like; for instance, Margaret Thatcher’s. This is also known as ‘the name of the drink is easier to pronounce than its ingredients’.
  3. The ‘Rarely Sighted Below Floor 99’ Cocktail: this is based on the assumption that leadership is finite, possessed only by an elite, so needs to be rationed to preserve its value. Compatible drinks: ‘leaders are so rare’ and ‘there is a war for talent’!

The effects? A curated hangover. The more these cocktails are consumed the harder to create better leadership taste – a ‘holding the future to ransom’ effect.

But what if leadership was not a ‘secret’, was not an elite property, but was ‘democratised’ - a means to an end rather than an end in itself; something anyone can learn; something without which anyone’s ‘development’ is unlikely; and that work and life offer many opportunities to practice it?

Leadership OR Losership: How to Ditch Dependence and Democratise Leadership seeks to free it from the few, for the many.

It fits with the RSA's key themes and recognises that sustaining social progress requires continued prompting in public discourse, learning and enterprise. This initiative seeks to: reinvent a leadership for all that starts with self-leading; to transform how we work, to reduce (if not eliminate) the cost of traditional management; and ‘retire inspiring’, the conditioned need for ‘transformational leaders’.

Are you interested in building a better leadership bar - leadership reimagined, reclaimed and democratised - where everyone is welcome –once they learn how to drink!

Building it involves exploring this initial work (more materials are available) to strengthen it around such issues as:

  • What is ‘Democratised Leadership’, its purpose, core and benefits
  • What it is not: what is ‘bad leadership’, its cost and power
  • What can DL achieve: enable individuals to be more independent, and organisations more sustainable enterprises; increase the ‘effective’ leadership reservoir in public and community services, build tougher learning and innovation
  • How it can work: By crafting an easy route into practice to apply and test it as a visionary, practical initiative

Donal Carroll established Critical Difference in 1998. He can be contacted via email and is open to collaboration and communication with other Fellows.


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