Identifying and defining discrete facets of leadership, is akin to the parable of the blind men and the elephant, feeling only parts of it and failing to form a whole picture of the animal.
Yet leadership is as real in its entirety as the fabled elephant is. At its core, leadership is recognisable in any setting, such as: innovativeness; originality; people focus ; long-termism; status-quo challenge ; doing the right thing as opposed to merely doing things right(Warren Bennis, 1988).
But many other variabilities underpin leadership styles, approaches and practices. And, the quintessential leadership qualities can be embodied in one person or be distributed or diffused among entire teams and workforces as shared leadership, with potent organisational outcomes.
The degree of sophistication and complexity of leadership can be gauged along a spectrum ranging from:
Transactional: professional competence focused on optimising the people assets and all resources, tangible and intangible.
Transformational: exercising higher level skills and capabilities toward optimum organisational goal attainments
Transformative: demonstrating exemplary visionary capability; being both emotionally and intellectually engaged, to bring about superordinate changes and outcomes, even beyond the organisation or institution.
Indeed, a whole person paradigm of leadership is advocated. But the extent to which transformative leadership can be optimised would depend on the latitude to operate without undue external restraints.
It is often assumed , and I would contend mistakenly, under the guise of skills transferability , that a professional or expert who has proven leadership in a particular domain, be it science, medicine, technology, finance or the classics etc., can automatically be a fully-fledged high calibre leader on an organisation-wide, institution-wide or other system-wide basis.
Transferability difficulties may also arise, in respect of fully applying and embedding the most evolved, ‘state of the art’ models of leadership, when the ideal conditions, cross-culturally or transnationally , do not pertain.
Thinking: a complement of being both convergent/divergent; concrete/abstract; lateral/vertical; ‘in the box’/’outside the box; linear/non-linear; analytic/synthetic; thinking feelingly/feeling thinkingly; ratiocinating/ intuiting; limiting/transcending; calculating/contemplating.
Visioning: Either far-seeing or ‘here and now’- focused; taking a wide-view or opting expediently for a narrow angle.
Hearing: Either hearing or listening; attentiveness or distraction; sound or sense.
Articulating: Either monologuing or dialoguing; speaking or talking.
Shouldering: Either embracing or merely bearing up; taking onus or just adhering or complying.
Handling: Either hands-on or remotely instructing; grasping or letting go; holding on or delegating; raising hands in humility or engaging in hubristic defensiveness; handshaking or being off-hand.
Engaging: Either being emotionally connected or affectively detached; involving or disengaging.
Ventilating: Either a breath of fresh air or suffocating sameness;
Detoxifying: Either eliminating waste or recycling detritus; revitalising or stultifying.
Catalysing: Either converting resources into productive energies or damming up with negatives.
Mobilising: Either being high- thinking, but feet on ground and getting around or being high- thinking in the ivory tower.
Integrating: Being a whole person, fully immersed leader or being a partially immersed leader. A whole person leader would be capable of leaps of imagination; and in the current environmental challenges and climate crisis, ethical and moral or principled leadership coming to the fore.
31 July 2019