13 March 2010

Emergent Leadership

Posted by Admin under: Creation; Events; Forum; Future; Haiti; Leadership .

The central concept that we’ve been exploring lately, that lies at the heart of what we aim to do through the Sustainable Leadership Forum, is that of “emergent leadership.” Our recent event — which featured members Paul Heitmann on electric vehicles and Regan Caton on her new web site The Awarenest (currently in pre-beta) — provided some good examples. (The meeting is described briefly here; in addition to the content, what made it remarkable were the personal stories of how people had gotten to where they are today. This, more than the information alone, is what inspires others to act.)

As Geno Prussakov puts it, “Assigned leadership is based on being appointed to a position within the organizational structure” whereas:

Emergent leadership, on the other hand, is very different in nature. Northouse points out that “the person assigned to a leadership position does not always become the real leader in a particular setting.” It is emergent leaders that are most respected and most followed. Northouse carries on to clarify that “this type of leadership is not assigned by position” but rather, “it emerges over a period of time through communication” [see Leadership: Theory & Practice (4th Ed) for more details]. The key elements here are persistence (it “emerges over a period of time”) and communication. Additionally, personality plays an important role too [read my recent post on Gary Vaynerchuk for an illustration], but is certainly not deterministic.

The key points in the Vaynerchuk article revolve around the so-called “trait theory” of leadership, that what constitutes leadership is certain characteristic behaviors; Prussakov explains the trait theory as follows:

[The trait theory was] resurrected in 1991 by Kirkpatrick and Locke who, believing that individual characteristics can predict leadership behavior, developed a variation of the trait approach in their assessment center technique. Their technique is based on a belief that there are 6 core traits on which leaders differ from non-leaders. These are: (i) drive, (ii) desire to lead, (iii) honesty/integrity, (iv) self-confidence, (v) cognitive ability, and (vi) knowledge of the business. It is also important to mention that the developers of the assessment center technique went away from the deterministic undertone of the trait approach, and used the 6 traits as positive pre-conditions of becoming a successful leader, leaving room for personal initiative to condition the rest.

In my view the most important characteristic of leadership is actually the willingness to innovate and to expand the scope of what you are doing.

My personal goal is to set an example of this that I would invite others to follow, and join with others who are committed leaders to help and expand their initiatives. The Sustainable Leadership Forum was born of the notion that the tools of personal  transformation and empowerment ought to be available to those most committed to preserving the human species from what appears to be a quite literal global catastrophe.

As Johann Hari writes:

I have spent the past few years reporting on how global warming is remaking the map of the world. I have stood in half-dead villages on the coast of Bangladesh while families point to a distant place in the rising ocean and say, “Do you see that chimney sticking up? That’s where my house was… I had to [abandon it] six months ago.” I have stood on the edges of the Arctic and watched glaciers that have existed for millenniums crash into the sea. I have stood on the borders of dried-out Darfur and heard refugees explain, “The water dried up, and so we started to kill each other for what was left.”

The crisis is real, and we cannot afford to act as if we have all the time in the world to fix it.

This is why I am working on helping to imagine, and to create, a sustainable future for Haiti. As Christine Comaford says, in Rules for Renegades, every initiative starts as an illusion, and if it is successful ends up existing in reality:

Everything’s an Illusion, So Pick One That’s Empowering

What is reality? Are you sure? Every minute of every day at every stage of our lives we are creating illusions. These illusions can be positive and growth-inducing, or negative and destructive. Only when we recognize our propensity to do this can we create illusions that will benefit ourselves and our businesses.

Even though these examples — Prussakov and Comaford — are in some respects crassly commercial, they speak to the zeitgeist, to the assumptions of our times, and to the approaches we need to understand in order to be effective. We humans do create our own realities, and once we realize this the circumstances we find ourselves in are less important.

It’s our choice of realities that ultimately determines our actions. As Werner Erhard says, our behavior is correlated with the way that reality shows up for us; we are in a dance not so much with reality as with our perception of it. There is no way of knowing reality “directly,” we are always talking about what it is that we are perceiving, and to what extent we can trust that.

To the extent that this perception “works,” i.e., produces the outcomes we are seeking, this is the best we can do. It helps, as Karl Popper would say, if it’s “falsifiable” — you can try it out experimentally, and see if it fails. What you’re left with is only provisionally true, but at least it’s empirical; anything that’s “absolutely true,” is pretty much a tautology, like 2+2=4, useful as a tool in some situations but not illuminating by itself.

So we only find out what works by trying it out. Edison famously tried 10,000 times to make the filament of an incandescent lightbulb — and this was only one of seven separate inventions necessary to make electric lighting work. Now we take this for granted, but someone had to do the work to figure it out. We face a similar situation today: we need to figure out in reality how to harmonize ourselves with nature — or else see how long we can survive at odds with our natural habitat.

In real estate development we have the concept of the “highest and best use” of a property; this is often, though not always, the one that also yields its highest economic value. My idea of leadership is that it is the highest and best use of a human being — not necessarily the one that yields the highest economic value, but the one that contributes the most to humanity. This is what matters, what makes a difference, to us and to others. As long as we’re doing this, we’re on the right track, even if the world at large seems to be hurtling toward ecocide at an accelerating rate.

One Comment so far...

Geno Prussakov Says:

28 June 2010 at 1:08 pm.

Good post, and thank you for the references. Glad you’ve found my articles of help.

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