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Philip Patston

Philip Patston

Consultant, mentor, life coach, after-dinner and motivational speaker and team facilitator (also known as social worker, counsellor, human rights activist, comedian, soap opera actor, a columnist, a trainer and even New Zealand’s inaugural Queer of the Year)

The remote control of leadership

"The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already." – John Buchan

Leadership is often mistaken as a quality that only some people possess. When we look for leaders to lead others, we look for particular developed skills and attributes - perhaps extreme competence in a certain area like the arts, sport or technical skill, or superior qualities like confidence or charisma.

But leadership is a quality of which everyone is capable and we all do it at some point in our lives. When was the last time someone you suggested seeing a movie, having coffee or dinner with friends, or doing something, however small, differently at work? That was you being a leader, without even knowing.

Even deciding to change the TV channel is leadership. If you don't believe me, let's do an analysis of the five tasks of leaders, originally developed for business by Warren Bennis (1):

  • Develop a positive future vision (dream) - "I want to watch a different programme."
  • Incorporate the vision into daily life (think) - "I need the remote."
  • Sell the vision to others (talk) - "Hey you guys, you'll really enjoy this programme."
  • Take calculated risks with the vision (do) - "Let's just watch it for five minutes."
  • Click! Involve others with meaning (share) - "Hey, isn't this a great show?"

Next time you're looking for leadership, take a lesson from your own inner couch potato. See what potential lies beyond the remote control, by applying these principles to more lofty ideals – like changing the world. My leadership goal at the moment is to move the world beyond ideas of impairment and disability. Here's how I've used Bennis' framework to guide social change:

  • Develop a positive future vision (dream) - "I want the world to understand about experiential diversity as an alternative to impairment and disability."
  • Incorporate the vision into daily life (think) - "I need to change the way I think about myself in order to communicate that new identity to others."
  • Sell the vision to others (talk) - "Hey you guys, I have unique experience, you have unique experience and this is how things could be if we all valued our experience differently."
  • Take calculated risks with the vision (do) - "This is how I use my unique experience to add value to my work and my lifestyle."
  • Then I get on and run my business, projects and life in a way that expresses who I am.
  • Involve others with meaning (share) - "Hey, isn't this a great way to think – can I offer to show you how this way of thinking can change your world?"

Thinking in this way about leadership has helped me demystify the role and understand three things:

  • You don't have to lead 24/7 – in fact, leadership is more like a relay race – you run for a bit and then pass the baton.
  • Leadership is about you – it's far more effective to change things for yourself than to set out to change things for others.
  • The dream of a better way and convincing others that they will benefit is the most important thing – leadership doesn't point out the error of where we are now. Its value is in showing the beauty and excitement of the next destination.

(1) “Becoming a Leader of Leaders” in Rethinking the Future, Rowan Gibson (ed). Nicholas Brealey Publishing (May 25, 1999)