Our understanding of leadership is framed in terms of an explicitly expressed or implicitly adopted world view. A real need exists to reframe our world view, and in doing so, opening up the possibility of looking at leadership with a different set of lenses. In this article, Theo H. Veldsman shows some of the critical shifts we need to make in our thinking about leadership so we can have a richer, more integrated and holistic perspective regarding leadership.
by Theo H. Veldsman
Theo H. Veldsman is a registered Industrial and Research Psychologist, as well as a registered HR Practioner. At present, he is Professor and Head of the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg. He has held various executive and director-level positions in the corporate consulting sector before joining the university full time in September 2009. He is the author of about 160 reports and articles, as well as a book entitled: Into the People Effectiveness Arena: Navigating between chaos and order. Theo works in the fields of strategy formulation and implementation, strategic organisational change, organisational (re)design, team building, leadership / management and strategic people management.
(Acknowledgement: Permission by Pearson Education, South Africa to use the above article which is included in Organisational Behaviour. Global and South African Perspectives, edited by S.P. Robbins, T.A. Judge, A. Odendaal and G. Roodt (2009) is gratefully acknowledged.)
Leadership as the centre piece in the success of teams, organisations, communities and societies has been demonstrated unequivocally: Leadership does make a difference. But in what way does leadership make a difference? Leadership serves as a beacon for direction and guidance, especially during uncertain and turbulent times; radiates mobilising energy around which people, sometimes widely diverse, rally; envisions people to visualise and explore previously unseen challenges and/or test the boundaries of the seemingly impossible; enables and empowers people to rise above their circumstances, frequently during the darkest of times; and models the desired way of acting, to be adopted by others. In other words, the difference of excellent leadership lays in being a beacon, an energy source, envisioning, enablement, empowerment and modelling.
On many fronts and in many ways, our insight into, and the exercise of leadership is under severe scrutiny because of a radically changing and significantly different world, reinvented/reinventing organisations, and people with different needs, expectations and aspirations. Leadership is in the fiery crucible of a reframed/reframing world. Within this crucible, with the already unbearable temperature increasing at a runaway pace, the warning signs are strengthening: leadership “churning”, toxicity, distrust, burnout, and derailment are snowballing at a rampant rate. There is an increasing crisis of confidence in corporate leadership: the level of trust in leaders have sunk to all-time low levels (e.g. only 23% of Americans think their leaders can be trusted); there is a growing belief that leadership in general are incompetent (e.g. more than 50% of USA leaders are regarded as being incompetent); leaders, especially in executive positions, have increasingly shorter tenure (e.g. currently 40% of USA CEOs last on average only 18 months in their positions); and leadership derailment has become much more prevalent (e.g. it is estimated that two thirds of US leaders have the potential derail at some point in their careers).
Our thinking about and understanding of every phenomenon, like leadership, is framed in terms of an explicitly expressed or implicitly adopted world view. (Typical equivalent terms for “world view” are a mental model, a foundational framework, set of lenses, paradigms, schemata or archetypes.) A world view frames the way in which a phenomenon is conceived, constituted, developed, validated and utilised. The world view regarding a phenomenon “liberates” our thinking about and understanding of a phenomenon by opening up the range of potential perspectives regarding the phenomenon. Concurrently, however, a world view “imprisons” us by creating blind spots about and/or by setting constrains with respect to our thinking and understanding regarding the phenomenon. »