We are all leaders now… or are we?

posted by Scott McKenzie

Consultants have a pretty bad reputation (probably well-earned) for adding jargon to the common vocabulary. Whether it’s terms like “matrix management”, or “line of sight”, or “C-suite”.

Usually these terms start with exactly the right intentions. To take a specific, complex situation and make it that bit simpler for the audience to understand.

The problem is that other people then take these well-intended phrases and use them out of context. The phrases then take on a life of their own. Often a long way from the intended meaning.

I think there’s a similar risk beginning to arise with the term “distributed leadership”. The CIPD have invested quite a bit of time testing and promoting the concept. They see it as one of the six key factors which drive business success.

They define distributed leadership as  when ”Senior leaders set a clear strategy, but also empower and motivate managers to innovate to deliver it”. Not much wrong with that..

I do wonder though, whether they would be wise to look at some of the other  ideas which also challenge the traditional orthodoxies of hierarchical organisations, like viral change .

I certainly endorse the idea of taking some of the power away from the top and devolving it into the organisation. I also see the attraction of developing a culture where everyone feels that they are making a valuable contribution.

In some recent conversations I have heard distributed leadership being explained away as “everyone” being a leader. In essence, “we are all leaders now”.

Do people need to feel like they are leaders to be engaged? I’m not sure that they do. In my view employees want to feel that they have been listened to. That their work has meaning and that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

That is a path which is more likely to lead to discretionary effort. Which ulimately has a positive impact on the bottom line…

But maybe I am now in danger of taking us away from the original definition of “distributed leadership”…!

P.S. – I’m reallyenjoying the debate around the recent Stockholm Accords – which set out to define the principles of good communications practice. You can follow the debate via the CIPR blog.

1 Comment


paul Seaman

Glad to know that you are enjoying the debate about the Stockholm Accords. The major problem with the Accords (one of many) is that they position PRs as “ideological governors of value networks”. That is much too close to saying we are authoritarian propagandists for my liking.

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