This is a word that has been hovering in my mind for the past five months, especially in the past weeks, while reflecting on the leadership (or maybe the lack thereof) in my past job as well as in other companies.
What makes someone a leader? How different is a leader from a manager? Why do some people really stand out as leaders while others do not?
The use of the terms “leadership” and “management” are often confused. Some use them interchangeably. Others look at leadership in a broad sense of the word (political, communal, religious etc).
Eventually, I recollected a book from Lipman-Blumen I read a while ago for a Leadership class. The book, called Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing World, intrigued me, not only due to the fact that it makes a clear distinction between a leader and a manager, but because it brings a leadership perspective that is rarely seen in other materials.
The book is divided into three parts, and the author brings a resonant discussion on the needs of leadership, its different stages (the Connective Model) and its complexity in the era we live in. She also explains how leadership evolves according to the scenario and circumstances throughout our lifetime.
The main point of the discussion, the Connective leader—the one in the Stage 3—has a crucial role of creating a sense of community, joining their vision with the vision of others. In other words, the idea of mutuality and inclusiveness are intrinsic to them. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are perfect examples.
But, as I mentioned previously, leadership can go way beyond the scope the term is commonly associated with. For this review, and aligned with my previous reflection about employers and the need for taking care of their employees, I’ll ponder the role of leadership in organizations.
The book gives earnest attention to the difference between leadership and management in technical/scientific fields. The author makes it clear that the type of job specifies the kind of management or leadership in place.
For example, although not rare, it is harder to identify the presence of leaders (in a connective way) in the engineering and the biomedical fields than it is in business.
The first reason is the nature of the job. In science and technology, there is a focus on the task, and in most cases, a protocol needs to be followed and quality assurance control needs to be considered to perform the job. Second, although times have changed, leadership training is not emphasized in the professional formation of those fields. The third factor, which in many ways can relate to the first, is that individuals in those fields are intrinsically motivated by the precision of the task, and, therefore, they work as autonomous beings. In contrast, in the business arena—where the motives go well beyond tasks, and in most circumstances, the tasks require a collaborative approach—the figure of a leader to guide, engage, and motivate people is essential for increasing projects’ chances for success.
Regardless of the area, the major consensus about leadership is that it relies on the vision and motivation of their human resources (employees). I believe in the philosophy of entrepreneurs who have their employees as one of their major assets. By motivating and coaching your internal customers, as a natural consequence, your external customers will be satisfied. For example, Herve Houdre (General Manager of Intercontinental Hotels Barclays) shows a great example of how vision, knowledge, motivation, and his approach to his employees and customers (relationships) can work for a higher cause.
Besides motivation and coaching, successful leaders develop vision and transmit that vision to the whole organization. They are able to predict changes in the global dynamics and be attentive to cultural differences in this intertwined world—an aspect that was also reiterated by Howard Gardner in Five Minds for the Future.
The book emphasizes that Stage 3 of leadership differs from Stage 2 because the former does not focus on individuality, authority power, and outdoing others. Instead, the focus is on the group, collaboration, and interdependence. In other words, the connective leader is someone who passes through the individuality stage to work toward interdependence and politic of commonalities.
Connective Leadership leads us, through the analysis of 3 sets (Relational, Direct, and Instrumental) and 9 achieving styles (Vicarious, Contributory, Collaborative, Intrinsic, Competitive, Power, Entrusting, Social, and Personal), to identify landmark characteristics of different approaches. It reinforces the importance of the Instrumental set to a connective leadership. It is through the Instrumental set that leaders show their influential and inspirational power (empower), call upon their network, and be collaborative and contributory to others. They also get others to follow their example. They optimize resources and entrust people with responsibilities and share the same vision by working toward diversity and community.
Another aspect the book touches deeply is the need for authenticity as an important characteristic of connective leaders. Leaders’ work has to be connected to a cause (or causes) much higher than themselves, and their behaviors ought to be validated by their followers, who need to recognize their actions as real/authentic.
Individuals such as Anita Roddick (former CEO of The Body Shop), Billy Shore (founder of S.O.S) and Wendy Kopp (founder of Teach for America) are perfect examples of that. Each one of them knew how to work for the group and with the group. Through an extensive network, they would get together people of different backgrounds and skillsets (using diversity), and had them work (through collaboration) to achieve a common cause. They were masters in dealing with people and different resources, making them successful in their projects.
Besides the efforts of those who worked (and are still working) hard for a bigger cause, there is still a lot to be done. The challenges are present in many arenas. And when it comes to business, it is no different. After all, it is hard to be a connective leader when in many instances we are still living in Stage 2. Although most aren’t at Stage 3 of leadership yet, there is still hope.
For leaders and aspiring leaders, this book provides a valuable reflection. In this competitive market, where leadership constantly changes and authenticity is still rare, this material is worth checking out.
What about you? Are you a Connective Leader? What other examples of Connective Leader do you know? Share your thoughts in the comments section.