14 August 2006

Leadership and form or substance

One could state that there are only two forms of leadership. However it is always possible to say, that every human has his own form of leadership. But to keep the discussion simple, lets keep it with two kinds. Although maybe it would be better to speak of one form of leadership and something that looks like it.

Oke, so I said two forms of leadership. One form of leadership is all about its appearance. What does the leadership look like? Does it look like leadership or does it not? This is, so to speak, leadership in appearance, that tries to look like leadership and works really hard at it. Where am I in the hierarchy? How do I interact with my subordinates? Am I friends with the right kind of persons? Do I say the right things?
The other form of leadership is substantial. I am not talking about leadership given to someone, because he is the best in his field. I am talking about leadership that is directed at making the best of leading others. Everything the leader does is directed at the advantage it creates for everybody who is beneficiary of the leadership.

However the leadership of substance is hard to discern from the leadership in form. Simply because the external elements of leadership are the same. Making a distinction between both forms of leadership can be really difficult in many situations, especially if a culture has all kinds of rituals and protocols that support the leadership.
Although most of the time it does not matter if leadership is substantial or form driven. Most people do not need a leader in normal circumstances. Most people think it is all right if someone represents their group. The will probably think: “Rather him then me.”

The difference between both forms of leadership are found in situations of emergency. Situations in which one person needs to decide who does what, so the efficiency of the actions of the group is maximized. In those emergency situations humans want a substantial leader, not one who looks at the form and seeks to minimize the risks for his own position.

But how can you tell the difference between both forms of leadership, if it is possible at all? Often it can be found in things like the desperate fight of a pro forma leader to conserve certain rituals and protocols. The form directed leader will also point to the rules and the hierarchy with great energy. He will try to establish his leadership by showing himself in public in a ritualistic way. He will tell others how they should behave and what their responsibility is towards the leadership. In moments of privacy he will be glad to except help. But in the open he will proclaim to have done everything on his own. Persons who have knowledge of the weaknesses of the leader will be manipulated into keeping their information to themselves or have to fear for their position within the organization.
Form centered leaders will often seek subjects and employees who will say yes to everything he says and wants. They will use their limited power to derail any independent mind, by promoting them to a save location or firing them.

The substantial leader will often do things that are the direct opposite. In public they do not mind to much for rituals and protocols. The do not have a problem with asking for help in public, although they may not need it. They surround themselves with people whose strong points are a complementation to their weaknesses. And decisions for hiring or firing are based on the need of the organization.
The substantial leader will look for what is good for the group. The pro forma leader will do everything that is good for his position.

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