Emerging Leaders: when will you emerge as a leader?

Blog by Anne Benson, Senior Consultant, Leadership Development, The King's Fund.

Congratulations on achieving your place on the programme. I hope you enjoyed the launch day. Now that you’re identified as an Emerging Leader, what does this mean? That you take part in the programme and then, at the end, you are a leader? Or that taking part means you can apply for more senior jobs and, when you get one, you will be a leader? Or that you are already leading and want to improve? 

I often ask new participants programmes to name people they see as leaders. They usually come up with names like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Winston Churchill, or Barack Obama. No one would disagree that these are well-known, great leaders of recent times. However, much as they can provide inspiration for us, it is difficult for most of us to imagine being like them or doing what they did (or do). For the women among us not least because people most frequently name men.

The King’s Fund recently published a report on the future of leadership and management in the NHS, subtitled No More Heroes (you have a copy in your programme pack). The report calls for a move towards a ‘post-heroic’ model of leadership. This means that rather than having one leader at the top who leads from the front while everyone else follows behind, people at different levels of the organisation take up leadership roles, formally or informally. Leadership can and must happen in every part of an organisation. Leadership is shared across organisational and professional boundaries, and involves working collaboratively with others. It is about more than individual competencies; relationships and connectedness are of paramount importance.

For you, this means you don’t have to wait until you have emerged as a leader at the end of this programme or until you are promoted to a job that has ‘leader’ in the title before you become a leader. You start being a leader straight away.

To be a leader, you have to recognise that you have some power and influence, and be clear that what you choose to do – or not to do – does make a difference. Again, a question I often ask those taking part in leadership development programmes is whether they believe they have any power within their organisation. Often, the answer is ‘No’. Even people already in senior posts often say they have no power, and power rests with an anonymous ‘them’.

Clearly, this is not a stance we want to advocate for you. We want you to see yourselves as leaders now. We want you to think about what leadership means in practice, as well as what being a leader means.

So, think about these questions:

  • What do you think about heroes and leaders?
  • What about the difference between ‘leader’ (the noun) and leadership (the verb)?
  • Can you be a leader, whatever your role?
  • Do you think you have power and influence in your organisation and every day practice?

We will continue to debate these issues over the coming months so please start the conversation.

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