What is the role of a leader?
As i was preparing for next week’s broadcast of our radio program, Business Matters, I was talking with Peter Block. Peter is someone who I have admired for many years. His early book “Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest” was an early writing that brought to my attention that the role of the leader was not to direct people but to support them in their ability to contribute.
Peter and I were talking about the leadership characteristics that are most important in a new President. Peter remarked that the notion of leadership was a problem. He feels that we still have a collective belief that leadership is something separate from ourselves. We project the responsibility for how things work out for us in many, if not all, aspects of our lives onto someone else. We often do this to someone who we believe is in power – often people with political or financial position. Peter contends that they only true role of a leader during this time is to facilitate.
We talked about what this would look like. Peter said that the useful leader would be part of a community, whatever its configuration (family, town, business, school,,,) and use their skills and gifts to help the community find its purpose and supporting its members in feeling accountable for the community living in that purpose.
As I see the disarray and distress in most organizations, what Peter said had a ring of truth for me. For too long, I and others have been advocating a leader as someone that was a role that determined who we are and what we do. This approach distances the community members from both accepting accountability for the community and for themselves. Through this acceptance of my own responsibility for everything, I reinvent my world.
Peter gave a simple example of a group he is working with. A local school district asked for his help. As he was talking with parents, he realized that they had completely delegated the accountability for the education of their children to the school district. He said to the parents and school district leadership, “This is too important a role to be delegated to anyone else. The parents must bear the primary responsibility for their children’s education.”
There are many examples where we have released our accountability to someone else. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to reclaim our role as creators or our world?