Leadership – Position or the Person?

Leadership  – we use this term so often but do we really know what it means? Is it the personal traits that one possesses and is a combination of skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours? Is it linked to a position of power or influence? Just Google the term and you will find thousands of references and definitions. Often we refer to leaders by the position they hold in an organization or community, such as an Executive Director, board member, or politician. What is interesting is that these describe the position they hold, but are they really leaders? This is the true question about leadership: is it the position, is it the person, or is it a combination?

Executive Directors, politicians and community leaders are in a position of influence. If we think of leadership as an ability to influence others towards a common goal, then they would clearly be in a “leadership position”. But that does not necessarily mean they are “true leaders” or “effective leaders”.  Margaret Wheatley, internationally recognized expert in organizational and leadership theory, suggests true leaders come from within and are not necessarily those in the leadership position. True leadership is not about control or power, but rather about creating environments where all members of the team are engaged in conversations and action. It is about harnessing the individual passion and desire for change in a collaborative and supportive manner. True leadership comes from a variety of sources. When Volunteer Alberta developed the ASK Leadership Assessment we asked 100 community representatives to identify leadership traits they most admire. Overwhelmingly, they said “passion” and “commitment”, and the ability to engage others in the process. Leadership come from within – the personal desire to influence change.

In a recent presentation in Edmonton Margaret Wheatley commented that, given the right set of circumstances, leaders from within any group will emerge, irrespective of position. For leadership to emerge, a set of complex factors need to be in place:

  • Organizational needs or priorities intersect with individual desires and commitment to make a difference;
  • The organizational culture supports a collaborative effort to work together; and
  • Influence and decision making is not in the hands of a few, but the responsibility of all.

Margaret Wheatley also noted that personal mastery is needed to create environments for others to engage in the conversations and decision-making processes. Leadership is about creating spaces and opportunities for all to come together to “do good work”. With this concept in mind, we see leaders in various stations within the organization or community. Leadership is not about position but rather about personal commitment and action.

“We believe that a leaders is anyone who wants to help at this time” (Margaret Wheatley 2001: Restoring Hope to the Future Through Critical Education of Leaders)

Toby Rabinovitz

Program Manager

P.S. Join Toby on November 20, from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm for a discussion about leadership at www.facebook.com/VolunteerAlberta.