This is a piece written by fellow leadership democratizers Rodrigo Jordán and Andrés Alvarez from Vertical S.A. The original article appeared in Spanish at RH Management and we’re proud to post the English version here.
Let’s cut a long story short! Leadership in organizations has typically consisted of augmenting the capabilities of some people – the leaders – to lead others from a position of superiority. Hence, it’s understandable that the main objective has been to look out for people who meet a series of valuable and necessary requirements or people who can potentially “learn to be leaders” as fast as possible; all done according to present theories and approaches of leadership at hand. We invest a significant amount of time into developing a few people who “stand out” as leaders while leaving untapped the talents and capabilities of other people whom we fail to recognize as leaders.
This perspective causes us to confuse Leadership with Leader, as both terms are used as synonyms. This confusion would also explain why we often make the mistake of describing someone’s leadership according to their personal attributes.
What then are the positive implications of distinguishing leadership from leader? Our thinking is that it allows us to discover that the type of coexistence and relations present in an organization do not solely depend upon the leader and his or her personal attributes but also upon how everyone takes ownership of their respective dreams and are able to bring their best to bear to align with their present situation and make their dreams a reality.
Thus, Leadership is a co-built process, rooted in common purposes, which belongs equally to the leader as to the team she or he leads. Leadership does not end with the qualities of one individual; it is an adaptive, participative and transformative process. Therefore it is possible to recognize every team member as a leader to the extent that her or his personal qualities converge with the shared purpose of the team and organization.
The experience of leadership must be accessible to everyone, everywhere and in all situations. As a leader or as a team member, being part of a process of leadership enriches the lives of organizations, communities and society overall. The path to this is to democratize leadership; in other words, expand the process of leadership to society, mobilizing the social capital that we so often ignored because our attention is trapped in the traditional image of the leader.
Democratizing leadership in organizations fosters conditions for every individual to be recognized as leaders, for teams to strengthen their responsibilities to co-create how they want to be led and thus commit to the purposes that unite them.
It is time to make a choice which is not risk-free: “To democratize leadership now.” It is the way to fuel the awakening of motivations, abilities, talents and goals that have been dormant, waiting for a leader to activate them.
The conviction we want to share is that by democratizing leadership, individuals and teams will be able to unlock greater potential, aim at more exceptional goals and commit to transfer the results of their work to their environments in a more sustainable way. Leadership must transform and become a collective competency in mobilizing people and teams to generously share spaces with integrity.