Last tuesday I hosted a conversation circle on leadership at Arena, and as always it was a great experience. We were a very diverse group, and we had a deep, meaningful conversation on the nature and challenges of leadership.

One question I was particularly interested in exploring was the role of leadership. What is it that leadership does in organizations and in the world? What is that happens beacuse of leaders, that would not otherwise have happened. In short, “Leadership, what is good for?”. This question is interesting to me, because it examines leadership from the outside. It’s not about trying to understand leaders, or about defining good or bad leadership. It’s an examination of the role that leadership plays. If you have any ideas on this, or any references to information, I’d love to hear about it.

After this conversation, I was particularly pleased to see that Fast Company have yet another excellent article on leadership, this time by Ronald Heifetz of Harvard.

To Heifetz, a leader is not the person with the answer, but the one willing to raise the questions. Leadership means being willing to face reality, and to examine the gaps between current reality and the reality we desire. These gaps can appear in the values we have, in the skills or in opportunities.

He makes more valid points in the article than I can sum up here, but here’s a quote I particularly liked:

I live in Boston. No one would live in Boston without owning a winter coat. But countless people think that they can exercise leadership without partners or without a sanctuary. To stay alive as leaders — to tend the wounds that we inevitably receive when we raise tough questions — requires maintaining these structures in our lives.

I know that I link to many Fast Company articles, but I can’t help it – they’re just that good.

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