Speaking the Language of Leadership By Colin Luthardt
It’s often said that today’s world of leadership is more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – and that we need to develop leaders better able to survive and thrive in this environment. The holy grail of people working in the field of senior leadership development is to create an integrated model. A model that deals with these realities of the complex world of leadership in the 21st century.
So Luthardt’s work is impressive in that he’s thought hard about keeping things simple; making his models understandable and, most importantly, he focuses not only on what the leader does – but what s/he says and how s/he shapes attitudes and motivates the people around them.
Luthardt’s model uses a number of metaphors:
• The ‘journey’ of leadership
• The ‘four sides’
• The ‘language’ of leadership
For anyone familiar with Forton’s model of leadership development, the journey is a familiar one. We base ours on Joseph Campbell’s ‘hero’s journey’ and Luthardt brings this bang up to date with the notion of international travel – flying from country to country, assignment to assignment – as the metaphor for the leader in the 21st century. His (very short) chapter on sudden turbulence is a great illustration of the realities of leaders’ lives.
The four sides in the book refer to the author’s proprietary model (Four Sides™), from which he creates a series of tools – adaptable to different situations. At the core of this model is interpersonal leadership – not just striving to achieve goals and achievements, but taking into account individual people and motivating groups – most notably by tapping into the communications skills we all have.
Again, this resonates with the Forton model – thinking about leadership AND emotional intelligence competences, building communications AND coaching skills – so that leaders can make best use of the resources available to them – and people feel more engaged and motivated too.
The language of leadership, as a metaphor, is more problematic in the UK-based culture of which I’m a part. I travel a lot and pick up languages fairly easily – particularly by listening and weaving what I hear into the context of the conversation. And you can ask any Brit about the ‘present tense’, the ‘future’ or the ‘past’ and you’ll get a clear definition.
Ask them about the ‘conditional tense’ and you might expect them to stall.
Yet any of their continental European peers would be able to rattle off the definition easily – as it’s been drummed into them when learning English. (Conditional tense in English is about the future and what might happen if…) In this book the author uses it to explore peoples’ motivations and ability to act – which of course makes sense when you know.
The challenge is whether this creates barrier for the reader – or is an engaging intellectual journey. For me it’s the latter and I was happy to be made to stop and think at that point.
What really works for me in this book is the image of the ‘four sides’ being in and out of balance – and what that means in any of the examples given. So if a leader is only interested in results, what imbalance does that create in Luthardt’s model? In this example, he argues that overly-focusing on the results achieved in the past will cost the clarity and delivery of future goals, the present organisation and how motivated people might feel. This works well as a metaphor, and as images in the book.
One key element of the book is the section which describe different work-based situations. What’s great is that they feel ‘real’ and familiar. We’ve all experienced the tension between focus on the day to day and focus on change; the need for a new leader to grow into their role and the senior leader to take their hands off the reins.
The author recommends this as a book to read at the airport. I’d also recommend that dipping in and out approach – combined with more focused bursts of reading when you have time to reflect on this rich and multi-faceted read.