What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part I)


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“Leadership is the capacity to give the world something that did not exist before.” Peter Block

Right now our organisations and institutions need leaders and leadership not just managers and management. Yet management is widely distributed and leadership is rare. And, most of what passes for leadership education and training is not fit for purpose. What is the basis of my assertion?

Why I say current leadership education is not fit for purpose

When reading through leadership material (books, courses…) I am struck by an experience I had some years ago. The challenge in coming into the organisation was to build the capability of the organisation to sell and deliver data mining/customer analytics services. This meant getting to grips with the customer analytics training course. As I read the course material and talked with people who had taken the course my heart sank. Why?

Because the course was all to do with theory and such left the participants with a bag full of concepts. And absolutely no hands on experience in doing data mining and building predictive models. As I result I spent three months designing/writing a new course from scratch: a course designed to leave the participants with the experience of being data miners / predictive model builders. In short, too many leadership courses espouse theory rather than call forth the participants to be leaders and exercise leadership.

Hence, in this series of posts I am going to share the work of Werner Erhard et al on the ontological model of leadership. Having participated in a similar course (SELP), I can say there is no substitute for doing the work that is necessary to show up as leader. The work is not easy – struggle with self and one’s existing way of being is necessary – and that is what makes it valuable. So in this blog series I can only shares the distinctions and point out the direction. Let’s start.

What are the 3 foundational strands of the ontological model of leadership?

The three foundational elements are integrity, authenticity and being committed to something bigger than oneself.


What is Werner pointing at when he speaks integrity? Here is my take on it. He is pointing at integrity as the state of being whole and complete. That is to say words and behaviour are in perfect alignment. What is the access to being in integrity? “honouring one’s word”. Notice that “honouring one’s word” is distinct from “keeping ones word”. What is the difference?

You can honour your word by going full out to keep it. And if you know that you are not going to keep your word then right there and then you tell the person/s who are counting on you (and your word) that you will not be keeping your word. And you clean up the mess that you have made. This is how Werner puts it in his words:

“What would your life be like, and what would your performance be, if it were true that:

You have done what you said you would do and you did it on time.

You have done what you know to do, you did it the way it was meant to be done, and you did it on time.

You have done what others would expect you to do, even if you never said you would do it, and you did it on time, or you have informed them that you will not meet their expectations.

And you have informed others of your expectations for them and have made explicit requests to those others.

And whenever you realised that you were not going to do any of the foregoing, or not going to do it on time:

You have said so to everyone who might be impacted, and you did so as soon as you realised that you wouldn’t be doing it, or wouldn’t be doing it on time, and

If you were going to be do it in the future you have said by when you would do it, and

You have dealt with the consequences of not doing it on time, or not doing at all, for all those who are impacted by your not doing it on time, or not doing it at all.

In a sentence, you have done what you said you would do or you have said you are not doing it; you have nothing hidden, you are truthful, forthright, straight and honest. And you have cleaned up any mess you have caused for those depending on your word.”

Why is integrity important? What contribution does it make? A leader is in relationship with people. Integrity as in “honouring one’s word” develops/grows trust and creates workability and thus contributes to performance. If you want to explore and get a better grip on integrity as Werner speaks integrity then I suggest that you read the following posts:

Coming next

In the next post, in this series, I will explore “authenticity”. Authenticity is critical to leadership and so I have put it in the centre of the diagram (above).

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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