Radical Leadership (redefined)

Radical Leadership (redefined)


Lest there be any doubt, I believe that leadership matters. And, for what it’s worth, I also believe that the more folks within an organisation that have the opportunity to demonstrate and exercise leadership, the better for all concerned.


Leadership is not management. I think we all get that by now. Sure, some managers can lead, and some leaders can manage, but the overlap is most times pretty small. Given that management and leadership skill-sets are very different, this should come as no surprise.

(I’m going to leave the question of whether leaders AND managers both are necessary in highly effective organisations to another post, another day).

Management and the role of the “manager” is woven into the very fabric of most organisations. Indeed, it lies at the heart of those organisations which I refer to as “subscribing to the Analytic mindset” (these being some 60-70% of all organisations existing today). Leadership in these organisations, whilst admired and plauded, is very much less ingrained, and manifests itself that much less often, too. Some (myself included) suggest that effective leadership offers us our best hope for improving the effectiveness of organisations as a whole (and hence, the quality of life for all the folks working in them – along with their customers, and our wider society also).

Effective Leadership – Necessary But Not Sufficient

I observe that many folks apply the term “effective leader” without regard to the relationship between said leaders and the organisational status quo. That is, many hold the view that effective leaders do not necessarily change things. Or more specifically, that effective leaders do not have to be involved in radically changing the prevailing collective mindset of the organisation to be worthy of the label.

Corollary: “Effective leadership” in a given organisation may not produce a highly-effective organisation. Effectiveness of the organisation as a whole depends on the prevailing mindset.

How, then, to distinguish folks who do work on the prevailing collective mindset of the organisation from those who merely lead incremental improvements to e.g. policies, processes, organisational structures, working practices and the like? The basic premise of the Marshall Model is that transitions in the prevailing collective mindset of the organisation are the determinant of significant uplifts in organisational effectiveness. So if we accept this premise, then I suggest it might be useful to understand who to look to in making such transitions happen.

Effective leaders show a sensitivity to the prevailing attitudes and mores of the folks they’re leading. They are not slaves to those attitudes and mores of course, but they are at least aware of them – and how they might influence folks’ collective progress and achievement.

Aside: The Marshall Model (of Organisational Evolution) has the subtitle “Dreyfus for the Organisation”. I chose this to underscore the fact that people looking to effect improvements in organisations – I’ll call these folks “interventionists” – can improve the success of their interventions by considering the collective mindset of the organisation before choosing particular kinds of intervention.

The common image of an effective leader invokes someone who “gets the job done”. By which I mean the day-to-day jobs implicit in any running business. (Some folks call this BAU or Business as Usual). Many would regard leaders who ensures BAU runs smoothly and predictably, with continuous incremental improvements, and a focus on doing the right things – in other words, an effectively-run business – as “effective leaders”. (I concede that some may regard these folks as worthy of the label “effective managers”, rather than leaders per se, but bear with me).

So, how to distinguish “effective leaders” from the much rarer (and imo much more valuable) “effective leaders who also strive to radically influence the collective mindset of some or all of the folks within the organisation”? I propose we use the term “Radical Leaders” for the latter sense. (If you have better suggestions I’d love to hear them).

Leadership, Effective Leadership, Radical Leadership

Many folks have attempted to defined the terms “leadership” and “management” before now. I’m not looking to overturn any of those definitions. Those waters seem muddied enough, already.

So, to recap, I propose (for the purpose of this post, and subsequent related conversations) the following operational definitions:

Leadership: the act of one who is instrumental in getting folks to come together to share in and thus progress a common goal.

Effective leadership: the accomplishment of the aforementioned, but at relatively little cost, in terms of stress, disruption, expense, and general faffing-around.

Radical Leadership: the act of effective leadership, expressly including the leading of folks towards radically different views of the world (e.g. the world of work) – views which enable and support significant uplifts in the effectiveness of the organisation as a whole.

As ever, your comments and suggestions are most welcome. 🙂

– Bob

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