Wes Balda has written a compelling piece on Peter Drucker and our overwrought attention to defining leadership, which is timely, seeing the new Pew report on negative media and presidental election coverage.
At lunch one day, [Wes] asked Peter to define leadership. He snorted in response, “There is no such thing as leadership.”
WB: He defended this by claiming it couldn’t be defined. He stressed that leaders were only labeled thus because they had followers.
PD: “At best, leadership may be a dimension of management,” he said, “and leaders could be identified because their actions were predictable, or perhaps trustworthy.”
Leading could be how we manage, or make knowledge effective through relationships, in powerless environments.
WB: ...Max DePree identified an important concept – the absence of power. Leading could be how we manage, or make knowledge effective through relationships, in powerless environments.
Results are achieved around or beyond the use of power. “Leading without power” may be the only way leadership works. By definition, then, using power in leading is not leading at all.
DN: Perhaps it's just coercion, or intimidation. From another article excerpted here, from Forbes, note the diagrammed split of leadership and management tools and the placement of "power tools."
WB: So, when Drucker says leaders are only defined by the presence of followers, I believe he means that these followers first exist – and that they are absolutely free from all constraints in choosing to follow.
A well known video on being the first follower helps illustrate this point.
Power is absent, and the decision to follow creates the ultimate democracy. (Drucker, incidentally, was even more focused on civil society after Sept. 11, 2001.)
Photo credit: by Jeff McNeill, Flickr.com CC