Organizational Leadership?


The words ‘Organizational Leadership’ can seem incongruous.  The key elements of leadership are very personal and relational.  How does that fit within a structured group environment? Basically, leadership is leadership, and Organizational Leadership is leadership that occurs within an organization.  But it does present special challenges and opportunities, and in the context of certain leadership principles ‘Organizational Leadership’ does make sense.

Leaders lead people. 

Leaders don’t lead programs or projects or processes.  Those things are managed.  The people involved in them are led.

Organizations are people.

And like people, organizations are defined not by what they do but by who they are.  It is first and foremost about the being of the organization – the story, the beliefs, the abilities, the culture of shared values, the vision.  This is then lived out and reflected in what the organization does.  Leaders of the organization focus first on leading the organization and the individuals within it to know who they are and to become more.

Leadership isn’t found on an org chart.

There are operational concerns with organizations that need to be handled by managers.  But the responsibility of leading people should not be placed solely on these same people.  Whatever role a person has within an organization, manager or not, they will be more effective in that role the more they are capable, committed and free to lead.

Organizations exist ultimately for the benefit of the individual.

Organizations provide efficiency that allows individuals to accomplish more than they could on their own.  But more importantly organizations provide an environment that allows individuals to become more than they would ever realize on their own.

Organizational success is marked by individual growth.

Using individuals for the sake of the work of the organization will not bring sustainable success.  If individuals within the organization are not becoming more as a result of their being a part of the organization, the organization is not fulfilling its ultimate purpose.  The responsibility to fulfill this organizational purpose falls on each individual, to respond as called upon to be a leader to others around them.

Take a moment to think about each organization that you are a part of, both occupational and volunteer, and ask yourself – Am I finding personal fulfillment and growth from being a part of this organization?  Are those of us within the organization clear on who we are, and who we want to become, as an organization?  Is this honestly reflected in what we do?  How am I a leader within this organization, serving others that they may find personal fulfillment and growth?

“In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.”  Margaret Wheatly

“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.” Stephen R. Covey

“The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization.” Fred Fiedler & Martin Chemers

Image: Liz Noffsinger /

5 comments on “Organizational Leadership?

  1. Dan Forbes says:

    Daniel, We do hear people talk about “leading” organizations, but in reality they are leading the people who make up the organization. It’s a subtle but important difference. Thanks for enlarging our understanding.

  2. Wyrd Smythe says:

    Sadly, I work for an organization where leadership is frequently paid lip service to, but almost universally is not understood or practiced in any meaningful way. In fact, in my experience, attempts to demonstrate true leadership are usually met with resistance and undercutting.

    Just this week I announced my intention to take early retirement, and my reasons for doing so have to do with my answers to those questions you posed above. I feel I bring a unique and very valuable set of skills, and decades of experience, to the table, but I am very obviously viewed as not valuable.

    In August, they eliminated my job and made no effort whatsoever to attempt to retain those skills. When I announced my intention to retire, the response amounted to, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.”

    Meanwhile, I just pulled of a huge coup for a major IT project, something that no one else in the company could have accomplished. My clients think I practically walk on water. My management think I’m a problem they’d like to see gone.

    If that’s leadership, I want no part of it.

    • Cybuhr says:

      What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah – Uffda. Your comments are painful in two ways. First because I know the leadership and skills you have to offer. Secondly because I can relate. It sounds like you’re dealing with a case of frightened management. When they see leadership as their “job” they become threatened when an underling shows good leadership, thinking the person is after their job. When in fact good leadership by all in the organization is what’s needed for the management to do their job well. I wish you the best. Keep being the unique and fascinating you.

      • Wyrd Smythe says:

        It’s very painful for me, too. And surprising. In my background (in the arts), experts, even “difficult to manage” ones, are usually viewed as extremely valuable resources not threats.

        I’ve dedicated my career life to being an expert; the guy who can get it done; the guy who has mastered the intricate technical details. I want nothing more than to be able to do what I do. I’m not a threat to anyone.

        And, yet, I think you are exactly correct. They see me as a threat, and in all fairness, at least some of that comes from my willingness to be openly critical of things that are going on. The thing they can’t seem to understand, though, is that the criticism is intended to make things better!

        I’m an engineer at heart, and engineers often look at a system in terms of how it can fail and how that failure can be prevented or managed. Engineers are all about improving a system. And that’s all I’ve ever tried to do.

        My reward is that my company breaks my heart and destroys my morale.

        That seems tragic for both parties.

  3. You raise good questions to ask yourself when in different organizations. I agree also that you lead people and manage things but also you will find a lot of dysfunctional organizations which try to manage people. Always leads to a much more sociopathic organization. Interesting post as always!

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