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Do or done to? Subject & object.

Is leadership something you do to other people? Grammar suggests it is. Remember ‘subject and object’ from English lessons? “I (subject) do something to you (the object)”. “I lead you” = the active subject is the leader and the passive recipient (the object), the ‘done to’, is the person being led.

This is wholly wrong and we need to eradicate that language-based deep assumption – which we absorbed very young – and realise that today’s leadership is a partnership in which people agree to coalesce around a common purpose. It’s a networked world. There is less deference to hierarchy. The best leadership is no longer about telling, about exercising power. It’s about helping shape meaning, purpose, direction and method of getting to the goal. It’s an agreement between people. And, as Byron said, leaders are led as much as leading.

Professor Jonathan Gosling of Exeter University in the UK, a colleague of Henry Mintzberg at Canada’s McGill, has contributed a paper to The Leadership Hub on how new-style leadership development has to acknowledge the network effect in which we learn from each other, rather than dividing into those who do (teach) and those who are done to (passive learners). He calls his paper ‘Wiki schools or ATMs’. The Hub, I’m glad to say, is emerging as a ‘wiki school’ for leadership. If you’re not sure what that is, Jonathan’s paper explains it. You can find a link to it on the home page of The Hub.


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