Leadership, convergence, and your “sweet spot”

I have been thinking about the big picture of leadership for a while now, and one of the more interesting books that I have read recently is Reframing Academic Leadership, by Bolman and Gallos.  Even though their intended audience is found within academic institutions, I think that the four views of leadership that they suggest are relevant to many senior leaders, whether in profit, non-profit, private or public sectors.

Let me summarize the four views, noting that one is not “better” than the others, and then I will suggest some additional ideas about convergence and calling.

  • A Structural view of senior leadership
    • Here the leadership image is that of an architect, analyst, or systems designer.  The basic leadership task is to divide the work and coordinate the pieces, with an emphasis on formal roles and relationships.
  • A Political view of senior leadership
    • Here the leadership image is that of an advocate, negotiator or political strategist.  The basic leadership task is to bargain, negotiate, build coalitions, set agendas and manage conflict, with an emphasis on the allocation of power and scarce resources.
  • A Human Resources view of senior leadership
    • Here the leadership image is that of servant, catalyst, or coach.  The basic leadership task is to facilitate the alignment between individual and organizational needs, with an emphasis on satisfaction, motivation, productivity, empowerment and skills development.
  • A Symbolic view of senior leadership
    • Here the leadership image is that of an artist or prophet.  The basic leadership task is to see possibilities, create common vision, manage meaning, infuse passion, creativity and soul, with an emphasis on meaning, purpose, and values.

When I first read the four views, I was tempted to prioritize them and also identify which view was “mine”.  I think both of my initial impulses were incorrect.  The best way to process the four views is, perhaps, to acknowledge that a stellar leader will be conversant and adept with all four views, and will employ/model them contextually.  This is especially important with the leadership of complex organizations.  That being said, however, for each individual leader I suspect there will be one (or a synthesis of elements of more than one) that rises to the top, in terms of a core leadership view and style.

Now, to introduce the concept of calling or vocation into this conversation, let me draw on Gordon Smith’s Courage and Calling.  Smith suggests that there are four key elements to be considered in determining a person’s sense of call (or vocation), but I wonder if perhaps there are at least five.  Smith’s four elements are:

  • Talent or capacity,
  • Desire or deep joy,
  • Where you see the brokenness of the world, and
  • Personality or temperament.
  • I believe there is also a fifth: Community discernment.

Where these five elements converge in your life, and when they overlap with your primary leadership view, you will more than likely find your “sweet spot” in terms of the expression of your own leadership calling.  And when this matches with the needs and context of your organization, it is a powerful experience!  Not only will you feel passionate and at peace with your leadership, so to will most of those around you.  Unfortunately, this experience does not happen to every leader, but if and when it does, great things can happen!

So … what about you?  Given the categories above, what is your view of leadership?  What is your sense of your personal calling?  Are you operating in (or close to) your leadership sweet spot right now?  If not, what do you need to do next?


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