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Questions From: "Should Leadership Be Random?"

June 20, 2016

I recently read an article entitled Should Leadership Development be Random? by David Burkus (www.theleaderlab.org).  It was about a psychological research project by Alexander Haslam, designed to assess different models for leader selection (essentially, random or chosen). The findings of the experiment enforced the hypothesis that groups with a randomly chosen leader outperformed those with a formally/informally chosen leader. These findings could be hotly argued and Burkus advised to not take the findings too far. However, one paragraph in the article really struck me.

“The study’s authors suggest that the reason for this surprising finding [that the random chosen groups did better] is that the act of identifying a leader or declaring one person as better than the group focuses too much attention on one individual and diminishes the group’s sense of unity. In addition, we have to consider that the reason these individuals were chosen as leaders, either formally or informally, is that they expressed their desire and promoted themselves as potential leaders to the group instead of focusing on how they might contribute best to the team.”

That first sentence really speaks to how many people view leaders—“better  than the group.” Many feel leadership focuses “too much attention on one individual” and diminishes “the group’s sense of unity”. If this is a prevalent view of leadership, something is definitely wrong. Leaders should actually be striving for the complete opposite of those three statements. Leaders should help bring unity, cohesion, and purpose to a group.

Alas, when we look at the news each day, it seems this negative view is played out time and again right before our eyes. How did we get here?

Too many leaders have forgotten they are just one part of the equation. ”Leader” is simply one role that needs to be played by a person (albeit, the right person) just like any other role. What if, instead of the organization being there to serve the leader, the leader chose to serve the organization and those within it? Robert Greenleaf declares that “What are you trying to do?” is one of the easiest to ask and most difficult to answer of questions.”

Ask yourself: Am I, as the leader trying only to propel myself? Am I attempting to serve only my own interests? Or do I aspire to something greater than one person can achieve? Something where a team of people is needed? Do I recognize that “leader” is simply one role on the team?

How might we change the idea that choosing a leader means “declaring one person as better than the group”? Would doing so result in increased respect for leaders in our society? Most importantly, if we embrace the definition of true leadership, might we see our organizations (business, non-profit, government) achieve more than we ever imagined?

Share your thoughts!