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Posts Tagged ‘ecology of leadership’

I’ve always had the seemingly unpopular belief that, at least in the business world, anonymity is synonymous with secrecy. And it always seemed to me that secrecy among team members is a bad thing. Then why does HR seem to be all for an anonymous 360-degree feedback process?

In my job, I need to be challenged, criticized, and pushed to improve my processes, especially communication. Call me crazy, but I’m just not sure how anonymous feedback helps anyone communicate. For me, it’s those one-on-one personal conversations from which I learn the most about myself and my approach to leadership.

Susan Scott, CEO of Fierce, Inc., and author of Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time, agrees. Her recent article lists some “worst best practices,” and puts the anonymous 360-degree feedback at the top of the list. Scott advocates the “365 Face-to-Face Feedback” process, which essentially is truly open and honest communication 365 days a year. She quotes Kevin Kelly, the editor of Wired and the author of Cool Tools.

“But if anonymity is present in any significant quantity, it will poison the system… Trust requires persistent identity. In the end, the more trust the better. Like all toxins, anonymity should be kept as close to zero as possible.”

As Mitch Alegre wrote, we have to understand the ecology of our leadership; our environment and context. Do we value open honesty? As leaders, would our followers agree? And do you, as a follower, give open feedback to leaders in your organization so they can improve?

Check Scott’s article here and let us know your thoughts.

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Definitions of leadership typically refer to something a leader does to, for, or with followers. The emphasis is on the leader. I view leadership as a system. This system has three components—leader, follower, and context. Leadership is not about the leader but about the relationship between these three components. Remove any part of this system and you destroy leadership. I refer to this dynamic as the ecology of leadership.

Ecology refers to the relationship of organisms to each other and to their environment. The ecology of leadership is about the relationship between leaders and followers within a particular context. Context refers to the situation or environment within which the leaders and followers find themselves.

Someone becomes a leader when others choose to follow. The followers determine who leads. There is no leader if no one is following. If there are followers, then by definition there is a leader. Otherwise you simply have a group of people wandering around. A leader is successful only if the followers are effective. If the followers fail, so does the leader. What is effective depends upon the context. What may work in one situation may not be appropriate in another circumstance. All three elements of the leadership system—leaders, followers, context—are interdependent.

This also means that leadership is an emergent process. Who leads and follows emerges as individuals interact with each other within a particular context. There may be a “designated” leader but that person may not be the true leader. Having a title does not make you a leader. The authority to lead is given by the followers. You become a leader when others choose to follow you.

We need to be mindful of the distinction between leading and leadership. Leading is what a leader does. Leadership is the systemic relationship between leader, follower, and context.

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