Leadership as emergent, co-created and unheroic

I really enjoy Chris Rodgers’ views on leadership. He argues against the assumption that it takes great leadership for organisations to succeed. He suggests that what we call leadership and thereby suggest is something rooted in an individual, is actually something that emerges from everyday interaction. My italics, because I think the dominant way of thinking about management becomes quite obsessed with looking for exceptionalism.

So he challenges the idea

that leadership is an elite practice, which arises from a particular set of characteristics possessed by a few, presumed to be special (or “abnormal”) individuals.

Instead, he suggests

leadership is a complex social process enacted by the many. It is not a rational, scientific endeavour practised by a few, gifted individuals. That is to say, it is an emergent phenomenon that is co-created in the moment of people’s everyday interactions. As such, it is a normal characteristic of the day-to-day relationships of interdependent people.

And this is how he thinks the myth of heroic leadership is constructed. It makes sense to me.

This also means that behaviours that are interpreted as acts of leadership are neither predictable nor prescribable in advance. Rather they are labelled as such after the event. And, given the individual and ‘elitist’ assumptions of the dominant management discourse, it is inevitable that such interpretations and explanations will tend to exaggerate the contributions of those who appear to fit the required criteria. At the same time, the tendency will be to ignore the ‘leadership’ contributions that others make to the outcomes that emerge. Or these will simply not be seen at all, because those charged with providing the ‘legitimate’ (i.e. scientifically rational) interpretation of events will be looking in the opposite direction.

2 thoughts on “Leadership as emergent, co-created and unheroic

  1. Danglade St Rose

    Magnificent. Rodger’s interpretation of leadership transcends normal thinking. I think he beckons us to shift our focus from the individual and to, rather, look at the collective efforts of those involved in any process.


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