At the Core of Leadership

In this piece, I’d like to consider leadership and the essentials which those leading must do and focus on to be considered a highly functioning leader. 

Whilst specific roles are considered as ‘leadership’, and so require the role-holder to function as a leader, the taking on of leadership in any role is essentially a personal decision. In being a leader, we individually and actively decide to be up front, pushing forward and chartering new territories. In this voyage of intentful leadership discovery, the new leader is giving things a go and continuously learning what works well (and what doesn’t!), always recognising the key leadership imperative to keep themselves, work colleagues and the organisation appropriately safe within the process.

It is helpful to consider leadership as a function of the system, i.e. something done within the system of the organisation, to help it move forward safely and most productively. Essentially, the leader needs to be in charge of the how the system works and how it progresses. To lead well, the leader need to activate these 5 core leadership functions:-

1.    Support the organisation to clarify, agree on and continually revisit its Primary Task
That is, help the organisation as a collective to define, verbalise and regularly reappraise what it must do or achieve to survive. This conscious group agreement will then keep everyone aligned and contributing to this core objective within their varying roles.
2.    Generate and share a vision of the future and define, with the group, a strategy to achieve
It is vital that the leader develops, holds and generously communicates their vision of where they’d like the organisation to be getting to in terms of position, operation or both. This needs to be clear enough, so that followers can actively help the leader to define the strategic ‘how’ of getting there.
3.    Provide a containing structure to allow safety and encourage creativity
Leaders need to figuratively get their arms around the organisation, to hold it securely, just not too tightly, so it can breathe creatively. A containing structure arises from clear accountability, consistent processes and active encouragement of innovation & new ideas, in line with primary task.
4.    Attend to ‘flow’ at the boundaries of the system – energy, roles & resources
If the leader focuses on the boundary, he/she can see how resource, roles or energy are coming into, or going out of, the system, and then manage this in line with organisational strategy and primary task. Leaders should encourage the edges of the system to be permeable and all roles to be clear.  
5.    Locate and attend to defensive or resistant behaviours – both in self and others
These ‘stepping away’, avoiding or defending behaviours will always be present, as organisations and individuals use defences to manage their anxieties. For a leader, noticing these is crucial as they will always signal underlying stressors. Talking them over openly will generate the advances required.

So whether you’re a leader new to the role, or looking to take more leadership in your existing role, actively attending to these five core leadership functions will help you mind your work system and move it forward progressively.

Read original text by Anton Obholzer, Chapter 9 in The Systems Psychodynamics of Organisations (Karnac Books).

For further support in leadership coaching, please do connect with us at T-Space.