Professor Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter, in a recent presentation put on by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, took the following position in answer to the question, “What makes a great leader?”
“The traditional models [of leadership] are built around an “I-based” model of identity, where the individual’s personality is so strong that others cleave to the leader out of sheer inspiration and loyalty.
The truth is, though, that the most effective leaders draw on a “we-based” collective identity–followers see their leader as “one of us.” It is group identity, not a single person, that makes or breaks the leader. In fact, to really understand what makes an effective leader, we also have to understand what makes a dedicated follower.”
I think the good professor raises an overlooked factor of successful leaders. Without a group of followers with needs, you have no need for a leader. And, for managers, if your employees do not see you as articulating and embodying their interests and needs–vs. just the organization’s interests–you will at best be a mediocre manager who will have to drive compliance among your staff to produce, at best, mediocre results.
In this context Haslam presents, I think there are three things a manager must be sensitive to, talk about, and support in his or her behavior and actions:
- What each individual employee wants, needs, and is motivated by
- A sense of the identity and pride of the “tribe” (i.e. the unit, department, function, region, etc.)
- The shared vision–what we are all together trying to achieve and contribute…to people beyond the group (i.e. What are we creating and for whom are we creating it?)
The so called “great man/woman” approach assumes that the leader motivates followers solely through his or her own vision, courage, charisma, knowledge and intelligence. If, however, you can tap into the three elements above that are of interest and inspiration to your team, you will stand out from those managers think that their success is all about themselves.