Management adviser Tom Cummings: “In situational leadership, leaders act based on a strong sense of self-awareness”


How  do a changing context and an increasingly complex environment influence leaders? Why do our leaders not live up to our expectations? And when leaders are succeeding, what are they doing right?

Executive board and senior management adviser Tom Cummings provided some insights on these questions during a two-hour interactive session on leadership during the MBA Homecoming Day.

Like every generation, we too reshape the world in line with our own values and norms. The concept of leadership is no exception.

Today more than ever, leadership is dependent on context. Contemporary leaders are flexible and have to use the right skills at the right time. A great deal is expected of them; almost heroic leadership.

But leadership is above all about making contact with the other and engaging with values that you genuinely care about.

Trying to list all the things that are required of leaders today is nothing short of terrifying.

They have to be competent, empathetic, goal oriented, decisive, strategic… In short, the ideal leader is a lot like Superman. But that person doesn’t exist. No-one can meet all those requirements.

So what has changed? Globalisation means that today’s leaders operate in a highly varied environment. This influences the requirements that we place on leadership.

Leadership landscapes

People expect their leader to adapt to the environment. But in contextual leadership, you can’t know everything about all disciplines. In this sense we ask too much of today’s leaders.

Modern-day leadership revolves around making connections. Not so much for your own gain, but mainly to open up new doors for others. Because for employees, too, the world, their environment, has changed. They no longer want to be led in a traditional way. They want to be inspired.

Situational leadership

Situational leadership therefore operates from a completely different perspective. These leaders act based on their inner values, norms and competences. They also have a strong sense of the material goods that really matter to them.

From this perspective, they look at the situation today and draw the lines to the future that they have in mind. In this style of leadership, you find solutions in relation to other aspects and you learn about yourself through your reflection with others.

Who in your environment inspires you? People in whom you recognise elements of yourself?

Anyone can develop leadership skills; it’s a matter of training yourself in the art of balance. By taking a ‘helicopter view’ without getting caught up in the details, and by thinking outside the box to come up with new possibilities. They are always there, in any situation.

Reframing is a way of looking at new situations and giving them a measure of coherence, and thus a new balance.

Of course, sometimes your balance can be thrown off by unforeseen circumstances. Then you have to reorient yourself – recovery – to a new equilibrium. The balance, the equilibrium, is dynamic. Its underlying power comes from your continued engagement; how you personally make the connection with things that are bigger than yourself.

Therefore, contextual leadership in the first instance is about internalising values and norms. By developing a strong awareness of what is really important to you and putting this into practice as a leader.

Tom Cummings is an executive board and senior management adviser. He operates as a creative partner, designer and process facilitator for strategic visions, company performance and leadership development programmes. His strengths lie in getting across new insights, sharp contrasts and a fresh mind set. He is involved with various successful business ventures and networks, such as Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Leading Ventures, the European Climate Foundation and The Global Alliance for Banking on Values. At present he is also a member of the Raad van Progressio Foundation and an adviser to the Tallberg Foundation, an action learning network to involve global leaders in human development and sustainability projects in Africa.

Source: Maastricht University, 3 December

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