Leadership: Hierarchy or Consensus?

Published on
August 16, 2020
Time to read: 
6 red chess pawns together and 1 black pawn apart
Image of a black pawn leading a group of red pawns, illustrating that leaders can be anyone from a group. Thanks to Markus Spiske and Pexels for this image https://www.pexels.com/@markusspiske

Leadership has been one of my special interests since I was a teen. My time in the Air Cadets followed by a military career, literally gave me decades to study and practice leadership. As a veteran, I lead different groups of people.

My core leadership values remain essentially the same as when I graduated from Military College. I continually adapt the practical application as I refine my leadership, by learning and adopting new techniques and tools. My leadership approach is pretty much the same whether someone has officially granted me the authority to lead or not.

I’ve held formal leadership roles as a senior officer, on not for profit boards, and in my professional associations. I’ve also acted as an informal leader in many different situations.

As a veteran, some people assume that the type of leadership I’m most comfortable with is a strict hierarchy, with top down direction.

I’ve come across hundreds of leadership models and definitions.  When I Googled “leadership definition” I was offered more than 2 billion places to visit.
I learned of the leadership model that most closely reflected my style as a military leader in 2000 or 2001, when I first learned of the Transformational Leadership model. In 1997, Peter Northouse wrote in the book Leadership: Theory and Practice that “… transformational leadership refers to the process whereby an individual engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower. This type of leader is attentive to the needs and motives of followers and tries to help followers reach their fullest potential.” This spoke to me, because I’ve long believed that leadership was about more than telling people what to do, and expecting them to do it.

Even in a hierarchical organization, you can choose to be a transformational leader, helping everyone on your team reach their full potential. I know that’s what I try to do.

I recognize that in many situations it is important to have a formal leader. In military units, it’s important to know who is the one responsible for making life and death decisions. In many organizations, it’s important to have a formal leader to make financial and other business decisions. Most communities have elected leaders, with one leader being responsible to speak on behalf of that community.

A few years ago, I learned that in Nunavut, in the lands we call Canada, the elected leaders work collaboratively when making decisions. Once a General election is over, the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly meet amongst themselves to elect the Speaker, Premier and Ministers in a secret ballot.  The process is open to the public. They also hold a Mid-Term Leadership Review.
Many of the leadership positions I’ve held as a volunteer came about by consensus, as all the volunteers involved met and decided who should be the titular head for our group.

Sometimes leadership opportunities show up when you least expect them. The challenge is determining if you have the energy, will and interest in taking on new leadership roles. If the leadership role is for an organization that shares your values, and is one that you feel you can do, then you owe it to yourself and the people you might lead, to invest the time to explore the opportunity further, before making your decision.

Sometimes, your knee jerk reaction is going to be “NO!” or “Why me?” I urge you to consider the impact you could have by taking on that type of new leadership role.
Your leadership opportunities could include roles such as: running for your municipal council, applying for a new job, or being nominated for a volunteer opportunity. If you think that you could be the right person for a new leadership role then I encourage you to go for it!

In answer to the question in the title “Leadership: hierarchy or consensus?” my answer is it depends. Not every decision is a binary one!

Which leadership model do you prefer?