Last week I attended the 15th Annual International Leadership Association Global Conference in Montreal. The conference theme was Leadership for Local and Global Resilience, recognizing the need for leaders to innovate and lead sustainable change in our local and global communities and organizations. This academic conference brought together students, faculty, consultants, coaches, and just a few organizational leaders to explore and advance new theories and approaches to leadership.
There is plenty being written today about the need for leaders who can address the systemic challenges we face while working in an environment of ever increasing complexity. Many of the conference sessions were geared toward considering how leaders can be personally resilient given the challenges of their positions. There is greater acceptance of the importance of mindfulness as a practice to manage stress and maintain focus in roles that demand constant shifting of focus and priorities. It makes sense that to create more resilient communities we need to have resilient individuals. Developing ways to sustain our health, well-being, and stamina in our lives and work is core to social sustainability. Leaders must pay attention not only to their own well-being, but also the well-being of all who work in their organizations.
There were also a number of sessions focused on how we come together as colleagues and citizens to address the complex challenges we face. Learning how to engage in dialogue while working collaboratively and creatively across cultures, generations, and belief systems is another critical capacity. Many people talked about the support one feels in a circle of colleagues; being, talking and working together to meet challenges. Leaders today need to find ways to bring people together and provide support for collaborative work.
One question that was present at the conference was whether we still need to focus on developing a few leaders who can inspire, direct, and manage followers or whether leadership is something that now, more than ever, needs to be shared by everyone. A question raised by one of the conference leaders was “if everyone is considered a leader, how will we differentiate the leadership role?”
In my mind, this is the major challenge we face. I don’t believe we can continue to rely on a few good leaders and many good followers. I have taken the term follower out of my vocabulary as I don’t think there is a great need to learn how to be a follower. What we need are many people who consider themselves leaders, who know when and how to step into the leadership role, share authority and accountability, express their perspective on what is needed and move forward to meet that need. We need to learn how to act together as leaders, how to respect leadership authority regardless of someone’s title or position, how to grant authority to those willing to serve as leaders, regardless of their age, gender, and ethnicity. I was most impressed with the young people at this conference, who were very bright and ready leaders. I hope they will embrace these ideas of shared leadership, instead of seeing leadership as a means to gain personal power and wealth.
Our democratic system is dependent on shared leadership and the complexity of our world demands this. Think about what could be accomplished in our US Congress if every elected official was a leader, willing to influence and be influenced, willing to engage in difficult dialogues to find common ground and the best path forward. I don’t believe we can succeed in addressing the many challenges we face and build resilient communities until we first master the ability to share leadership.