Is the era of "rock star leaders" over?

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 11 April 2014 14:40 GMT

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Here come the inclusive leaders that build on influence, not authority, and know when to take a back seat

What kind of leader are you - shouting from the rooftops how great you are and giving directives to your underlings with little regard to what they think, or do you prefer a quieter, more introverted approach that thrives on inclusion and collaboration?

If it's the former, take note - your style is passé - here come the inclusive leaders that build on influence, not authority, and know when to take a back seat to let others lead.

“Big leaders become rock stars and rock stars tend to do what they want without question," Sebastien Marot, executive director of Friends-International, a social enterprise that works with marginalised youths, said at a panel discussion on authentic leadership at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship this week. 

That style of leadership fails to include and nurture an organisation's most valuable asset - the teams that make it all work.

Bill Drayton, the founder of social enterprise and innovation network Ashoka, spoke of a new model of leadership, where leaders do not simply give directives but create an environment for teams to achieve a collective vision.

"Influence, not authority are key to leadership, we will see this type of leadership more and more," Drayton said.

In this new framework, everyone is a leader, every sector is interconnected and a leader's ethics and behaviour must be guided by cognitive empathy -- knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking -- rather than the drive to boost your own profile as a leader.

"Leadership is a service to mankind, being down to earth, knowing what your people want," said Rafiatu Lawal, chairperson of Cama, an alumni network of the Campaign for Female Education, in Ghana.

The only female panelist, she described how as one of 11 children in her family she was never taught or told to lead but learned it by listening to what people in her community wanted. 

"The best leader is someone who creates leaders and ... knows when to let others come forward and lead," she said.

The first woman in her family to get a university degree, Lawal became a teacher and stayed true to her vision of a future where all women have an education and are empowered by knowing their rights.

Drayton as well stressed the importance of authenticity in leadership.

"There cannot be a difference between your vision and who you are. To build trust and be an effective leader you must be truly married to your ideas, no matter how ‘unreasonable’ they might seem," he concluded.

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