Organisations spend a great deal of money to develop and train their leaders. More than £20,000 per leader per year, we've seen estimated. And beyond that, people who want to be leaders get themselves expensive educations at business schools.
The idea is that this spending pays off, as these improved leaders increase profits, recruit and retain better staff, engage and motivate them more effectively and so forth.
But what are they taught on their leadership courses? All sort of theories of leadership. Most of which are based on limited or dated research, with conclusions drawn from one set of circumstances as if they can be applied (scientifically) to other circumstances that different leaders will face in their digitally-reconstructed futures in radically different organisations.
Even leaving aside the quality of research and the rigour of the logic of the leadership arguments, attempts to apply these theories may or may not be wise. Perhaps it is simply not possible to have a true and accurate map of leadership. To say the least, the landscape of leadership is not fixed.
When people mistake a map for the territory, and then people do not react as they are expected or supposed to, we are tempted to call them resistant (to our great idea). I’m the leader, and you should follow me this way. The theory says so. We are confronted with disappointment and even argument and rebellion.
Whereas if we were less tied to theory and were instead, say, trying out something which seems to be a good idea during the course of our leading, we could be looking for signs of co-operation and progress – key elements of a solutions-focused approach.
Instead of giving leaders theories, let’s give them tips. Offer hints on how better to interact with people, ways to deal with changing situations, tools for collaboration. And a reminder to keep an eye out for what works.