GUEST CONTRIBUTOR Oberdan Marianetti, Global Head of Learning Corporate & Institutional Clients and Corporate Finance, Standard Chartered Bank, argues that leadership does not emanate from an agreed definition and draws on his research on Essence Leadership By Oberdan Marianetti
id the leadership experts get it all wrong? Have we been following the wrong advice? It’s Monday morning; you are about to go to a meeting you would rather not attend. You know there is little you can contribute, and you are feeling despondent because the meeting will be a bore. One hour has passed and the meeting is now over. You leave the room with a deep sense of curiosity and somewhat baffled by what just happened. The content was alien to you, and yet, you felt attracted to the conversation, engaged and energised. And you wondered why... A similar experience started me on a journey that eventually led to the creation of Essence Leadership, a simplified way of looking at leadership to help people become better leaders.
It is confusing In search for answers for about two years, I ploughed through research on followership, leadership, management and communication. The more I read, the more my head was spinning. The more my head was spinning, the more I started to believe the experts had got it all wrong. “How presumptuous of me,” I thought, “The experts could not have it all wrong”. I stayed curious and continued exploring. I talked to experts, friends and colleagues. I watched hours of interviews and presentations. I read books and articles by the most reputable authors and publishers. But I could not find the answers I was looking for. I came across a book, “Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership”. I thought, if I was ever going to find answers, it would be here. I was familiar with some of the articles, but decided to re-read them together with the new ones. My thirst was not quenched – I was still confused. It also dawned on me that there was
a pattern in the questions leaders had been asking me during our work: “Am I a leader?”, “How can I be a better leader?”, “Am I a leader or a manager?” and “How do I become a better leader?” They were as confused as I had become. There were so many versions of the “truth” and none was getting me any closer to understanding what happened on that Monday morning. Let me give you a taste. Many books and articles purport to provide the definitive leadership “recipe”: • “You do these four things, you’ll be a great leader.” • “You embody these three values and people will follow you naturally.” • “You practice these five skills and you will inspire your followers.” Some of these famous “ingredients” include: self-awareness, empathy, setting a strategy, aligning people, “getting on the balcony”, regulating distress, becoming a “sensor”, daring to be different, solving problems, supporting others, trust, compassion, authenticity... Where do you start? Imagine, you are an individual running your own business and you want to take things to the next level – you want to be a better leader. You read the papers, you read the books, you even attend renowned leadership development programmes… but you are still none the wiser. What should you focus on? Is it your selfawareness? Is it your communication skills? Influencing perhaps? Maybe you should dare to be different. Imagine you are now an HR professional and perhaps, you are responsible for leadership in your organisation. How do you define leadership? Has the company created its own version? Has it adopted the themes from one of the famous models? Maybe the Leadership Pipeline, by Ram Charan or Authentic Leadership by Bill George. Maybe you went for Servant Leadership, by Robert Greenleaf.
Whatever the case, how will you make this unique to your company to help it deliver on its specific aspirations? Furthermore, how do you approach leadership development? Do you focus on purpose, strategy or interpersonal skills? Presence? Values? Whatever the approach, how are these helping your employees find their unique and most powerful expression of leadership? The research helped me conclude that the confusion was widespread. The experts failed to work from an agreed definition of leadership. And leadership was transformed into something reserved for the great leaders who make it into the history, sport and business books.
Essence Leadership is the synthesis of my research and experiences of working with leaders for over 15 years. It simplifies leadership and helps people become better leaders. I use the word ‘Essence’ with two meanings. The first is as in “the essence of leadership”; the second as from its Latin root, essentia, which means “being”. Within these two meanings also lie the contributions of this new leadership model: first, a foundation definition of leadership; second, some pointers on where to begin your leadership journey. The Essence of Leadership can be described by three variables: You, audience and interaction. “You” refers to any individual or collective that has something personal and specific to bring to life. “Audience” refers to the context you occupy and the people within it who have the potential to become followers. “Interaction” refers to the tools, skills and actions you use to bring youself and your audience on the same journey. After much reading, exploring and thinking, I arrived at a synthesis of leadership with which I could explain ISSUE 15.9
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