Leading is a dangerous business – Linsky and Heifetz

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: October 25th 2011

“To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear – their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking – with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility. Moreover, leadership often means exceeding the authority you are given to tackle the challenge at hand. People push back when you disturb the personal and institutional equilibrium they know. And people resist in all kinds of creative and unexpected ways that can get you taken out of the game: pushed aside, undermined or eliminated.”

Martin Linsky and Ronald Heifetz (2002)

This quote, from Leadership on the Line talks of the essence of leadership in public service. We can only lead to the extent that we motivate and inspire others to follow. Formal authority means little when it comes to making real change. Leadership is about inspiring others to do what is right because they believe it is the right thing to do. There are many occasions on a daily basis where we are given opportunities to lead. One does not need to be a superintendent, principal or other formal authority figure to lead. All you need is a vision and the perseverance to see a plan of action through to success. Yet, when you disturb the “institutional equilibrium” or push people’s boundaries, there will be a push back in all sorts of creative ways. Your ability to maneuver yourself through such times is what can keep you positive on a daily basis and is what can make you an effective leader from wherever you stand in an organization.

“It is no wonder that when the myriad opportunities to exercise leadership call, you  often hesitate. Anyone who has stepped out on the line, leading part of all of an organization, a community or family, knows the personal and professional vulnerabilities. However gentle your style, however careful your strategy, however sure you may be that you are on the right track, leading is a risky business.”

In this post, and in others, I look forward to hearing people’s reflections and discussions related to philosophy in action (or praxis). The quotes above, from one of my favourite books, have often come to mind as I watch people exercise leadership from wherever the are positioned within an organization.

I look forward to your comments.