In a Russian fairytale from my childhood, a king is seeking to do away with a soldier whose very beautiful wife has caught the king's fancy. After a couple of failed attempts where the soldier comes out triumphant, the king finally homes in on a properly impossible task:
'Go I don't know where and fetch I don't know what.'
The stakes are high: if the soldier fails this assignment and returns without the solution to this puzzle, he is to pay with his life.
In the fairytale, this tests the soldier's resourcefulness and determination to the utmost. He fails the test, strictly speaking. The traditional story has him stumble into the paradoxical, magical answer when he's all but given up.
I am reminded of this story whenever I talk about leadership. I am putting the finishing touches on a talk for University-level students on Leadership for Careers, and I'm looking for a way to tell them this:
There seems to be, so far, no consensus on what leadership is. And that's before we get started on how it is meant to be done.
With often a lot at stake, the task of leading in an organisation can be as ill-defined as the king's assignment for the soldier in the fairytale.
On my shelf is a chunky book reporting on current research on leadership  which illustrates this point. The book's many chapters bring to mind the old Indian story of nine blind men with an elephant:
The book reports on the many approaches to leadership in current circulation. I've chosen a few, to give you a flavour:
Each one has a handle on the truth, most likely. Yet a synthesis that brings together the many elements of the elephant is still outstanding. The book freely admits that, to its credit.
The upshot is that 1) It remains a task for each person individually to figure out how they can *do leadership*. and 2) If you find yourself feeling bewildered by the contradictions of attempting to lead, or to pick a path for yourself (aka self-lead), be assured that you're at least in step with the times.
Thankfully, there are ways to make leadership tangible, and to hone *your way of leadership*. I teach one way to do that at the ByHeart Tangible Leadership workshops. In the meantime, here's something fruitful to think about:
Are people following your lead? Are they coming along with you?
For a long time, attention in discussions on leadership was focused on those who lead, and how they are to do the leading. This left a major chunk of what happens in a lead-and-follow dynamic veiled, out of the limelight. It was almost as if those who lead could do that separately, in a bubble of their own. As if you could do good leading without any reference to how it worked out in practice (which involves the followers).
Even if all you change is give more attention to how your lead is being received, what effect it is having, this will already start to provide you with clues.
Whatever you become aware of will automatically trigger you to adjust what you do. This will naturally take you into new territory, where you can discover further refinements.
This process can start to define for you what might have started out as 'I'm attempting I don't quite know how to bring about I don't quite know what'.
And if you'd like a more structured or in-depth guidance on your leading or self-leadership, get in touch and let's figure out what would serve you best.
References  Northouse, P.G., Leadership: Theory & Practice (Seventh Edition: International Student Edition), SAGE Edge, 2016
Your best thinking has taken you this far. To go further, you need to expand your horizons, reach out into the as-yet-unknown.
ByHeart Coaching uses proven coaching methodologies to support you in achieving your goals. We add Psychosynthesis psychology and expertise in leadership into the mix, both of which allow you to resolve long-standing tangles, take fuller ownership of your potential and your destiny, and venture ahead unhindered.
Margarita Steinberg ByHeart coaching introduction
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margarita Steinberg
I am a Leadership Coach with a specialism in Psychosynthesis psychology. I am the founder of ByHeart Coaching, and this blog grows out of my coaching work. I am also a qualified and experienced teacher, and draw on training in counselling skills.
I work with individuals and couples, as private clients; I also work with organisations through running leadership coaching programmes and group workshops.
PUBLICATIONS A chapter on my innovative learning format using embodied learning appears in the book 'Disrupting traditional pedagogy: Active Learning in Practice' published by University of Sussex Press in June 2019.
In preparation: my first book 'One step at a time: how to thrive in a dynamic world'