Leadership-as-Verb

This drum major has positional authority, but is she necessarily a 'leader'? Photo by Flickr user e_cathedra.
The leadership question is as vexing as it is interesting and important. Rosetta Thurman relates the story of an older gentleman asking his version of the classic leader-follower question: “What happens if you have too many leaders and not enough followers?’ (although his version was more interesting, asking about increasing competition within an organization as the number of people trying to lead grows).

Rosetta rightly challenges that positional notion of leadership and instead suggests leadership might be a behavior, but she doesn’t entirely let go of the idea that some people might qualify as ‘leaders’ while others might not.

I want to go a step further. The idea of leadership becomes even more interesting and robust, and more useful as well, if we think of it as a verb rather than a noun (with acknowledgments to Marty Linksy and Linda Kaboolian). One isn’t ‘a leader’ but instead you can – at any given time – exercise leadership. The shift to leadership-as-verb much more sharply distinguishes between people in positions of authority and people exercising leadership, it avoids the thorny question of just how frequently you have to exercise leadership in order to earn that exalted status (is five minutes a day enough? an hour? every waking moment?), and it morphs the notion from being a status you earn to being a behavior you can elect to exercise or not at any given time. It also – importantly – allows for leadership to happen anywhere in an organization, in any direction (an idea Rosetta describes as well).

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