What is leadership - and how can it be learned?
Whilst the term leadership is no more than 200 years old, discussion of the concept can be traced back to Plato and his dialogues on ideal political governance. A great deal has been written about leadership but despite this there are many different and often conflicting theories of leadership. However, some consensus has emerged; that leadership is a particular form of influencing process and that this influence is exercised in order to achieve change through others.
Whilst some individuals in certain contexts are described as 'born leaders’, there is also widespread recognition that leadership skills can, within limits, be learned. Structural changes in organisations, moving towards less hierarchical and more flexible modes of operation, have increased the number of employees put through leadership training. Leadership is therefore not just for Chief Executives and senior management but is an important aspect of many peoples jobs today.
A growing number of academics question established thinking on leadership, arguing against the view that leadership is some quality that the individual has. Instead, they argue, that leadership is not an individual activity but is a social phenomenon. Leadership is seen here as a social and linguistic process of influence. It happens in the interaction with others. With this definition of leadership, followers are as important to the effective process of leadership as is the person in charge.
This thinking is perhaps the key to understanding why and how experiential, theatre-based learning methods can be so powerful. When skilfully facilitated, interactive learning methods help explore the social aspects of leadership, putting the subtle use of language and the impact of behaviour under the microscope. Through realistic simulation, high stakes challenges can be rehearsed and refined with expert coaching in the moment. The combination of finely calibrated simulation and expert coaching and feedback means that the learning from experiments carried out in the skills laboratory of the training room can easily be applied in the real world.
After all, it’s not leadership theory in the training room that makes the difference, but the act of leadership in the real world.