So what is it all about with leadership? … everyone’s job?


Leadership is such a contested ground. Countless definitions fly around in academia, practice, media. Everyone seems to have an own idea what a good leader is. Like everybody in the UK knows better how to run the NHS or the English football team! You surely have similar examples in your countries.

Let me throw this at you.

Asking ‘what defines a great leader’ is not the most intriguing but very popular question! Often trumped by: “Bernd, tell me what the five things are I need to do to be a great leader.” Honestly, this request is a bit off track. Actually there might be a few crucial ingredients. I will revisit later. However, leadership and leading is not about one individual person!

I mentioned earlier that at Henley we look at leadership as a co-created, multi-facetted phenomenon! A relationship and a process amongst people evolving over time. Not just one great gesture. Directing, mobilising, developing people has a history, plays out in the present and into the future – involving many active people.

Leadership is everyone’s job.

We love our org charts, but leadership can happen independently from formal roles. Everyone who engages in the process of leadership co-creates leading. Commissioner Dame Marsh recently puts it as follows. “Great leaders are people who are able to lead those organisations where, actually, people at the very bottom of the organisation can be just as influential as the people at the top” (Report Management 2020).

A few months ago …

…in a Henley Partnership event one participant made my day when I asked: “Where does leadership happen?” A response from a manager of a maintenance services organisation: “In our business – everywhere. Managers make as much a difference as the people on the shop floor, in our case: street sweepers. How they go about doing their work and how they voice observations and ideas can change our business. This may look like small scale for us. It is big for them – and our customers.”

Try this.

Identify in your organisation people who inspire and motivate you? Who helps you to refocus on what is really important – and how? Don’t forget to tell them!

Happy engaging – stay tuned.


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