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Content versus Being

September 5, 2013

In our opinion, most of the existing research on Leader and Leadership emphasizes the peripheral aspects and content, and almost none aims at understanding or articulating the essential nature of what Leadership is. They are looking at Leadership from the outside instead of from the inside—the experience and method of being a leader and Leading by Being.

The content of leadership refers to the knowledge a leader must have about a particular domain or area of work. Any leader must have sufficient technical, professional, organizational, situational or project knowledge to be influential or effective in that domain. Such specific technical domain knowledge includes technical theory, critical domain data, relevant theories, standard professional practices, future trends, etc.

However, most studies of Leader and Leadership hold this content in the wrong context—as if simply knowing about Leadership can make one a Leader. This makes Leading by Being impossible. Absent having the Being of a Leader, mere content expertise can easily be misused to establish social or organizational authority, or establish hierarchical superiority. However, attaining a leadership position or designation by mastery of content alone is not leadership, but politics. Access to specific domain knowledge is necessary, but insufficient for Leading by Being. Experience and a specific state of Being is required: the Being of a Leader. After all, you cannot lead people into a state of Being or consciousness unless you first have created it for yourself.

Tangible qualities such as domain knowledge, hierarchical position or designation as a leader describe only peripheral aspects of Leadership—the doing and having of a Leader. Peripheral aspects are what observers see when observing Leadership as a phenomenon, or at least can attribute to Leaders. For example: the traits, styles, or personality characteristics of Leaders, and what noteworthy Leaders have done in the past in various situations. A Leader’s title, position, designation, status in a hierarchical organization and decision-making powers are also peripheral—part of the doing and having of Leadership.

Unfortunately, almost all current approaches to education and training in Leadership are unable to convey the actual essential nature of Leadership or the being of a Leader. Because they concentrate on peripheral aspects and content, they ignore the ontological aspects of Leadership. Leading by Being corrects this error by adopting phenomenological research, ontological education and experiential training methodologies from the beginning.

From → Leading by Being

  1. To understand leadership you need to understand followership…..

    • This is true, in general. However, Leadership carries the additional burden of guiding the becoming of the follower. First the Leader must become the desirable future he wishes to lead the followers into; then he must be the catalyst for that future to come together around him. In future articles we will explain our theory of Leading by Being, so that all these points will be clear.

      • The causal link between the leader becoming the desirable future and the wish to lead followers into it may not always be evident. Indeed in many examples of paradigm shift the desire to attract followers could be described as latent at best.

        I look forward to your future work; there are many of us who are working in similar fields of endeavour….

      • Nicholas, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that the intention to lead may not be the dominant driver in cases of radical paradigm shift. In my own case, I was just trying to solve a persistent personal problem. But as I approached the solution, it became evident that there is a general case that would deliver massive value to people in general. So I consciously accepted the leadership role out of a desire to distribute the value I had discovered to benefit others.

        I can also envision a case where there is no desire for leadership, but a person attains a beingness that is so attractive that followers arise spontaneously. However, if this happens during the person’s life, the person more or less accidentally becomes a leader by popular vote, and may not have sufficient knowledge of leadership issues to handle it well. This also happened to me earlier in my life, and it brought the lesson that despite any other attainments, leadership is a deep subject deserving of specialized study and practice to get right. The consequences of a bad mistake in leadership can affect many people.

      • I share your views entirely. The interesting dimension that the latter example of indirect leadership brings to the debate is the motivation of the follower and whether we can learn anything that may be of use where the leadership intent is evident from the outset. It is possibly the closest that we can get to examining the ontology in the absence of organisation.

      • Oh yes, this is a very useful perspective. We have discovered in the teaching of the Buddha a comprehensive ontology of being and becoming: Dependent Origination (paticca-samuppada). It can shed much light on these questions. We are working on ways of presenting Dependent Origination as an important mechanism in contexts of learning and leadership. I think it has great potential as a model for being and becoming in general.

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