I keep hearing, reading and increasingly find myself sitting in passive learning environments where lectures try and teach me about; leadership.

I dare ye to do a CTRL + F for “leadership” on a digital newspaper or a search within the Irish Times website, I advise you to stand well back though, for fear of overload leading to explosion 🙂

“You know what the problem with Fine Fail was right; a lack of leadership”. “You know what’s wrong with the current Irish Football team, a lack of leadership”. “Breaking news; another premier league manager gets the sack”. “You know what this country needs right; it needs leadership”.

I’m  studying towards a masters in e-commerce. I’ve completed a module in; next­_generation management, whereby it states in its course objectives a bid to create a class of leaders. Can we all become leaders? I mean, surely to be a leader, you need some followers?  Furthermore, I’ve been involved in countless personal and professional initiatives, which have “leadership” as a proposed derived learning, e.g. the Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow Award.

I’ve studied, extensively, the area of strategic organisation and management, especially with regards companies deploying ICT initiatives. Here what I consistently find is that; yes, ICT holds undeniable merit for business, yet often such initiatives are deemed as failures…the reason…you guessed it; change management i.e. leadership.

I am always working towards self improvement and have actually devised a personal development plan, where I constantly highlight and work towards achieving greater competencies, including that of leadership.

My fear though, is that leadership is becoming yet another fluffy buzz word, a go to description of an undefined concept. I have certainly witnessed it popping up a lot more in the last few years, especially where discussing failure; “oh the problem there was in leadership”.

Half of me wanted to have a rant. The other half of me wanted to find out what this thing I’m trying to be actually is.  I did some reading, reflecting, and blogging…

The complex concepts of leadership via the multidimensional concepts of management are widely studied and result in an abundance of literature. It is of great intrigue to me that, for such a commonly referred, socially embedded term (that of “leadership”) no one definition exists.

So, before going any further, I will now address this ambiguity which commonly envelopes the task of defining leadership.

Amongst the most commonly utilised definitions include that of Bennis and Nannus (1989):

“Leadership is the process of providing direction, energising others and obtaining their voluntary commitment to the leader’s vision.”

The article “Exceeding Expectations, the principle of outstanding leadership” discusses the findings of a leadership study. Central to their research was that of a series of interviews they undertook. By conducting a total of 262 interviews with 77 executive leaders and subsequently employing thorough content analysis, they were able to categorise the key, defining attributes of leadership e.g; vision, environment and relationship building, attitude towards power and control, performance, communication, self awareness and emotional intelligence.

In addition, (Bloisi et al, 2007) illustrate the “Traits that distinguish Leaders from Non-Leaders.” Discussed here is a heightened level of drive, leadership motivation, honesty and integrity, self confidence, cognitive ability and even business knowledge.

Another area of ambiguity becomes evident when discussing leadership in juxtaposition to management.

(Tiernan et al, 2006) make distinction between the two concepts. In many cases the term leadership was indicative of rank, e.g. as an ICT support team member climbs the hierarchical corporate ladder, he/she is rewarded the title of manager. Then as they

gain more followers he/she thus becomes a leader. Increasingly however, the prevailing viewpoint is that leadership and management are neither synonymous nor interchangeable terms.

Fullan (2001), writes “I have never been fond of distinguishing between leadership and management: they overlap and you need both qualities. But here is one difference that makes sense to highlight: leadership is needed for problems that do not have easy answers. The big problems of the day are complex, rife with paradoxes and dilemmas. For these problems there are no once-and-for-all answers.”

Furthermore, (Mumford et al. 2000) states “These theories have in common a focus on certain behaviour patterns and the implications of these patterns for leader performance. In contrast, however, leadership can be framed not in terms of specific behaviours, but instead in terms of the capabilities, knowledge, and skills that make effective leadership possible”.

I therefore make the informed extrapolation that whilst leadership and management are different constructs, variant in terms of competencies, characteristics and role, I concede that ICT and e-commerce initiatives rely on both. Note to self; become better leader and manager.

A CIO, for instance, as a leader, plays an imperative role in setting the strategic direction whilst also aiding its execution. However, quality management is also essential. Any company, whether that be a dynamic ICT company or not, relies on management to conquer the mundane, day to day challenges with which it faces.

This can be complemented by the work of (Kotter, 1999) where it was said, “Without good management, complex organizations tend to become chaotic in ways that threaten their very existence.” And so it can be said, “leadership complements management, it doesn’t replace it”.

The article “Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era” further discusses the distinction between leadership and management. Although (Rost, 1981) put forward several theorists as

having already published material which highlighted the aforementioned distinction, it took an article by Zaleznik to really ignite the debate and establish this as a field of study in its own right.

In a 1977 Harvard Business Review piece (subsequently republished in 2004) Abraham Zaleznik stated not only are they examples of two different concepts but in fact they relate to two distinct types of people. He contends differences exist in their orientations towards work, goals, and towards relations with others, and themselves.

Further discrepancies could be viewed in the “conceptions they hold, deep in their psyches, of chaos and order” (Zaleznik, 2004). Leaders, he viewed as “active” and would actively shape ideas. Managers, meanwhile, where “reactive” and thus, responded to ideas. Whilst managers see goals as impersonal, leaders use them to reflect a deeper meaning based on his/her own beliefs (and not necessarily them of the corporation). Managers are concerned with planning, negotiation, rewarding and coercing. Conversely, leaders aim to excite, inspire and support. Managers are said to portray low levels of empathy, whilst leaders relate to followers intuitively. Another key point to Zaleznik’s theory is that of “sense of self.” Managers personally identify with the corporation and thus gain rewards from its success. Leaders then are viewed as separate from their environment. They may work in a particularly company but ultimately, they don’t belong.

Zaleznik utilizes William James’ once born V’s twice born personality types to further illustrate the difference between leaders and managers.

Managers are said to be “once borns” in so far as their “adjustments to life have been straightforward and whose lives have been more or less a peaceful flow since birth.” Leaders are “twice borns,” or those whose “lives are marked by a continual struggle to attain some sense of order” (Zaleznik, 2004).

Zaleznik thus, compares the role of a leader, not to a manager but rather, to that of an artist, scientist, and creative thinker.

The attributes of an artist have been listed as follows: creationist, dreamer, inspired, determined, dedicated and someone who pushes beyond themselves to reach others. They are visionaries.

Let me halt for a moment and bring attention back to where I highlighted vision as a critical element of leadership. Leaders are said to be visionaries, and use creativity and intuition in establishing direction. CIOs, for example, are concerned with the alignment of vision in various areas, e.g.

• Direction: Vision to provide clear direction for ICT change

• Engagement: Vision to engage all employees

• Passion and purpose: Vision to establish a frame for enthusiastic and emotional connection with specific ICT projects. This may allow for superior championing of the project and encourage buy in

• Help followers view the company outside of its boundaries, encourage out of box, creative thinking amongst followers.

My course lecturers are urging students to emerge as leaders. Bennis (1989) discussed how managers “surrender to the context” yet leaders “master the context.” Considering the fast paced, dynamic and competitive nature of ICT, it is imperative that students like me can step up to the plate and lead strategic ICT change in my career.

Now, off to become a leader…