Leadership is dangerous work - so claim two Harvard professors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky in their book Leadership on the Line. The book uses case examples to give tips on team management, keeping your emotions in check and dealing effectively with opposition - because leadership is risky and dangerous.
Leaders are people who are prepared to put themselves ”on the line”, they are courageous, they have the “guts” to challenge and the confidence to hold their nerve in the face of overwhelming opposition. I am picturing a John Wayne western or Bruce Willis in one of the Die Hard movies. But to be a leader you need to be more than a maverick with balls; you need to be able to see the bigger picture, to be “on the balcony not the dance floor”.
A modern leader encourages passionate debate by making it clear it is ok to say what you think and to challenge but never lets things get out of control and knows when to step to reduce the temperature.
The clever leader does not allow themselves to become the sole target for those resisting change but ensures others take appropriate responsibility.
I certainly recognise this leadership behaviour but as a model it doesn’t set the right tone. For me this style of leadership too closely resembles macho management and Machiavellian management. It lacks the subtlety of the leadership required in complex organisations which operate within a political environment like local government or the NHS.
Is it really so “dangerous” being the chief executive? Leading a polar expedition, maybe, leading a patrol in Afghanistan, definitetly, but chairing a discussion on the future of the library service or awarding an IT contract…?
Is it really “dangerous” to express an opinion, will challenging and questioning inevitably jeopardise your career? Are you putting your career and personal life on the line every time you make a decision? Leadership is rarely so dramatic.
It is more about influencing and shaping rather than dictating and controlling. The main personality characteristic required is not courage but stamina. Having the energy and the persistence to keep chipping away at the myths, to keep challenging the accepted wisdom and the existing ways of doing things,to repeatedly repeat the message even though you are sick of hearing it yourself.
Leadership is not dangerous - it is wearing. The biggest risk is your hair turning grey and the loss of your idealism.