Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Is it 1 or 5 or 10 things I have to remember about Leadership?
Perhaps the success of the Great British Bake Off, and the countless other cookery programmes that adorn our TV screens, has started to influence other aspects of our lives. It seems that virtually everything can now be boiled down to a recipe. Nowhere is this more apparent than across social media where the staple diet of articles on Leadership is a list of essential ingredients. Whether it’s “The One Thing Leaders Should Know”, or “5 Essential Habits Great Leaders Adopt”, or any other variation on a theme, current trends suggest that Leadership can be acquired as a ready-made meal.
Condensing the essence of Leadership into a simple, easy to digest recipe, does help us cut through the fat of literature, theories and interpretations of Leadership. And it, at least, encourages us to think about Leadership rather than assume it is something that just grows in the wild.
I like simplicity, and I think that the intention of many of these Leadership menus is to create it. However, I’m generally left unsatisfied by them. The taste they leave in my mouth is either bitterness (“why didn’t I think of that!”) or saccharin sweet (too pat and sickly). And there’s always the risk that with so many ingredients to choose from, I’m never going to be really on board with the author’s chosen mix.
Some articles go much further: apparently, there are 7, or 10 and, in some cases, as many as 20 things Leaders MUST do. As a form, the 1, 5, 10 (etc.) approach provides useful packaging, so much so that I’ve used it myself; but I’m now at the point where as soon as I see the packaging I lose my appetite. Maybe it’s been overcooked, the idea has become stale, and the plate lacks flavour.
The idea that taking a liberal dose of Self-Confidence, seasoning it with Decisiveness, and garnishing it with Empathy, will produce a competent and successful Leader is farcical. Just as saying that in order to be successful you also have to be Extroverted. A lot of Introverted people are successful, too. At best, the form can only describe one form of Leadership: that (presumably) embraced by its chef. Any simplified definition reduces the concept of Leadership down to something that lacks richness: it doesn’t take account of the myriad flavours and colours and textures that adorn the Leader’s plate.
Just as there are thousands of restaurants and many different recipes for making a cake, leadership may be an impossible dish to pin down and get consensus over. So, instead of trying to nail it, perhaps we should simply embrace its slipperiness. That means looking at every situation based on its own merits and needs, and critically evaluating what we need to do within that situation. It means not being wed to any particular theory, but allowing ourselves to respond humanly to situations we encounter. It requires us to keep experimenting and playing with leadership, rather than thinking we’ve cracked it. This is situational leadership gone large, recognising that each situation might be new and unfamiliar.
Maybe it’s right to accept that reducing leadership down to set of ingredients could be a recipe for disaster.