Last night the BBC aired a programme on Radio 5 Live. It was about the organisation I work for - Common Purpose - and picked up on the accusations of us being a sinister organisation being made by Brian Gerrish and others. Of course I'm not overjoyed by it, but one of the issues raised on the programme made me think. The programme suggested that our description of leadership - leading beyond authority - appears sinister.
But leadership isn't something that can be confined to boundaries of authority. Surely the recent financial crisis has taught us that at least. Social and economic challenges aren't going to respect structures and boundaries that we put in place, and problems in our own organisations or communities won't remain neatly inside the boundaries of one department or geography. People will have to learn how to deal with things outside their authority.
I don't mean people should go and interfere for the sake of it, it's more complex than that. But we do need more people who believe they can make a difference and understand how to go about it. Part of that is accepting leadership as a positive thing, not something to be frightened of. Someone who wants something to change is going to have to lead it. Doing nothing won't make a difference.
Youth crime is a great example of this: Police can't solve this on their own, they need to work with communities, with parents, schools, politicians and community activists alike. But to do this Police need to reach out and understand these different people, to stop seeing them as part of the problem and start seeing them as part of the solution. They then need to communicate with them, share the problems, build coalitions of people to take things forward. For me this means leading.
Part of the strength of talking with people about leadership is it forces a very powerful conversation about whether or not individuals can make a difference. I've worked with so many people who've rejected it because they are uncomfortable with the responsibility that it appears to carry, or who think it is a label that can only be used by those in senior positions. It's this very fear that I want people to overcome. Why can't a single mum who wants to improve conditions on her estate be called a leader. And when she is she can't be told to lead within her authority, because all the answers lie well beyond her authority.
Does leading beyond authority sound sinister or is it just another way of helping leaders understand that problems don't come in neat packages?
I've put a link here to leading beyond authority so you can read the formal stuff if you want.