In the service of the group

The traditional form of leading encourages a kind of co-dependency where subordinates look frequently to their super-ordinate (“the boss”) for riding instructions and the inevitable game plan.

In so doing, the capacity of individuals within the group or of the group at large to build capacity, take up authority, and exercise agency, is reduced. Most important of all, the capacity to work with mess in creative ways that gives rise to adaptation and even innovation, is almost inoculated against.

This familiar MO creates the fantasy of a “leader” at the centre of the work, rather than at the centre being the adaptive challenge being attended to by any number of people using, when appropriate, leaderful behaviours.

Think of a world at work where the group acts on the adaptive challenges presented to it in an informed and skillful way, without yet knowing the solution, without panic and without falling back on old habits, where sense-making has become a purposeful act of bringing data, diagnosis, experience and insights together to form an agreed view of the possible next few steps forward. Where to act in the service of the group in support of it realising its primary tasks is a self-effacing task that is actively un-dependent but deeply collaborative.

But this is hard to permit if we are in charge and consider ourselves to "know the answer" (really, just a working hypothesis in adaptive challenges) and find impatience and control our drivers.

Traditional leadership – typically expert, masculinist, agentic, simultaneously at the top and in the centre of the room – places rank in the spotlight. The only time you should find yourself near the spotlight is if it is in the service of the group. Otherwise, the group has seduced you out of role and you have stepped in to do its work for it.

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