Changing styles of leadership

By Shizuyo Sato and Wayne Ellsworth


What is a true leader? According to Neale Donald Walsch, author of the series Conversations with God, the leader is not the one with the most followers but the one who creates the most leaders. He is not the one with the most knowledge but one who causes the most people to become knowledgeable.

Without leaders,  any community or organization cannot exist. Leadership requires certain qualities and abilities.

For a group to be successful it should be led by capable and honest leaders. They may either work individually or collectively. Groups must have a simple and effective structure to function properly.

Leadership is the ability of an individual to influence and guide people to work collectively on  common problems. It involves overseeing and monitoring the group’s activities.

People such as the head of a women’s group, a community leader, a company president, a government officer, an NGO leader, a politician, a school headmaster and a cleric have different styles of leading. But they also have qualities in common.

ICA Japan is involved in a village development project in Bihar, India. I found most of the staff there  eager to learn and asked them to describe the qualities of  a leader.  They listed the following: honest, responsible, committed, not selfish, motivated, kind, creative and not a drunkard or gambler. Their leadership styles had changed during the course of the project. These were the shifts I saw: from being a follower to taking initiative; less to more confidence; domineering to being motivated, ignorant  to knowledgeable; unaware to aware; voiceless to vocal; and individual to collective work.

The idea of servant leadership is popular in Japan. It enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. It is an ancient philosophy. There are passages about it in the Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao-Tzu, who is believed to have lived in China between 570 BCE and 490 BCE. In his words:

“The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised.

If you don't trust the people,
they will become untrustworthy.
The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When she has accomplished her task,
the people say, "Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!"

From the Christian tradition, the Gospel of Mark is often quoted in discussions of servant leadership:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:42-45]


Evolution of leadership
The following chart, used by the ICA in some of its seminars, shows how leadership styles have evolved.

We are currently in the systems age, also called the consciousness age, post information age and knowledge age.  In this age, everyone generates information and circulates it freely.

I have seen a change in leadership style after disasters in Japan such as the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. People realised they had been suddenly made poor, homeless, jobless and hopeless. At first, they were overwhelmed by sadness, fear, stress, loneliness and anger. But they are now grateful for having survived and are helping each other.
Leaders know who the most vulnerable people are and plan for their rehabilitation. They set new directions and organise the team. They empower people.  They demonstrate a strong belief and spirit to overcome the situation.

Leadership is to be there first, to indicate, sustain and to keep going.  It is not leadership for management and operation. That comes next. The leader’s role is to understand the philosophy,  purpose and value of the organization, community and groups.  That is the most important role.

Shizuyo Sato and Wayne Ellsworth are co-directors of ICA Japan.

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