Leadership Is Dead. Long Live Leadership #18 #cong21


The world is holding its breath, waiting for a strong leader to come and rescue us. The time for this passive stance, this lack of belief in the power within ourselves, is over. The model of the heroic leader, the one with all the answers, the one that relies only on them self, has had its day. Sorry, lads, your time is officially up!  Our global community needs something very different to tackle the unique problems facing our planet. A leadership model that recognises the power of collaboration and understands that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, has to hand collective wisdom and problem solving. We are all called to share the responsibility and empowerment that collaborative leadership calls for. When it’s our turn (and it’s always our turn) have we the courage to turn up and be counted?

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Key Takeaways:

  1. We’ve been holding out for a hero, singing at the top of our lungs; ‘he’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight’. It’s time to stop holding on.
  2. Leadership is dead. Long live leadership. As part of a global community, we look to a model of leadership that moves beyond the concept of the heroic leader on a solo run to save humanity.
  3. Collaborative leadership is the answer. The power of collaboration lies in ‘the whole being greater than the sum of its parts’.
  4. Are we ready to join in the collaboration and lead from the ground up? Will we be ready when its our turn (and it’s always our turn)?

About Anne Tannam:

Anne Tannam is a Creative Coach supporting people who are blocked or stuck creatively professionally or personally; helping them find their flow again. To find out more about Creative Coaching, visit wwww.creativecoaching.ie Anne is also half of Coaching Collaboration, where alongside her coaching colleague Liz Barron, she supports teams to work more effectively through collaboration. For more, visit www.coachingcollaboration.ie She’s also the author of three poetry collections; the third, ‘Twenty-six Letters of a New Alphabet’ published in July 2021. For more on Anne’s poetry, visit www.annetannampoetry.ie

Contacting Anne Tannam:

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By Anne Tannam

Are we ready to move beyond the redundant model of the heroic leader and embrace collaborative leadership, where we’re all called to play an active role in leading ourselves into a fairer and safer future?

I’m holding out for a hero

I remember the first time I listened at the age of nine or ten to Genesis’ classic track ‘One for the Vine’, from their album ‘Wind and Wuthering’, released in 1976. ‘One for the Vine’ tells the story of a reluctant young soldier sent into battle, alongside fifty thousand other men, to do the will of the Chosen One.

In his name they could slaughter, for his name they could die.
Though many there were believed in him, still more were sure he lied,
But they’ll fight the battle on.

As they’re crossing a snowy mountain range our reluctant young soldier turns and flees, loses his footing, and falls headlong onto a wilderness of ice. For the simple people living on that part of the mountain, the sight of him falling through the low clouds tells them that he’s God’s Chosen One, come to save them and lead them into battle with their oppressors. Reluctantly he decides to play the role of the Chosen One and gathers an army around him, heads up the mountain range, urges them on,

Then, on a distant slope,
He observed one without hope
Flee back up the mountainside.
He thought he recognized him by his walk,
And by the way he fell,
And by the way he
Stood up, and vanished into air.

That song blew my little ten year old head off and it’s stuck with me ever since. For me, it says a lot about the arbitrary nature of power and leadership, and how often it is legacy and circumstance that form a leader. It also says a lot about our deep desire to be rescued by a strong hero. As Bonnie Tyler warbled in the 1980’s:

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong, and he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

But we’re not living in the 1980’s anymore and history has taught us that the time of the heroic leader is over. The time for running solo, carrying the weight of responsibility and garnering all the accolades, has past.

Strength in numbers

Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen what happens when the old model of leadership faces a global crisis. Sadly, it turns in on itself, relying on rhetoric and bluster to hide its fear and ignorance. It refuses to listen to experts, believing it a sign of weakness to say you don’t understand or know everything. In sharp contrast, the pandemic showed us what happens when experts across many different scientific disciplines collaborate, share knowledge and together lead the fight against the virus. A vaccine was found so quickly because the scientific community knew, like Aristotle, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In my own field, coaching, there is a growing awareness of the power of a team to effectively lead itself, once the right tools, training and supports are at their disposal. Of course there will always be the need for a leader role, but that role can be played by more than one person. We have all been in the situation, whether at work or a home, when the one who is in charge cannot, for whatever reason, do their job, and lo and behold, someone else on the team or in the family, steps in and discovers they’re more than up to the task. They just never saw themselves as leaders before.

When it’s our turn (and it’s always our turn)

Borrowing from the title of Seth Godin’s book ‘What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn)’, the question of leadership is one of self-empowerment and courage. It’s really hard to step up and lead alone. Take the example of Annie Kenney that Godin writes about – Annie was a millworker and early suffragette in England who stood up to a member of Parliament, causing a ruckus, and was thrown into jail for three days. Her courage amplified a movement that ended up changing the world. Annie didn’t change the world on her own; she was part of a wider, collaborative movement, but she played her pivotal part. That’s what collaborative leadership looks like. Another woman who springs to mind is our own Catherine Corless, the most unlikely leader; painfully shy, quiet and softly spoken, she has stood up to church, government and detractors, because she believes in justice for the mothers and babies of the Tuam Mother and Baby Homes.

And now, back to us. If it is our turn (and it’s always our turn), what collaborative leadership are we called to be part of? What kind of leadership are we ready to embody? The world needs ordinary, everyday heroes pulling together, fighting the good fight, side by side

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