Democratising Leadership and Why it is no Longer a Nice to Have

Whatever you think of Steve Jobs as a leader, entrepreneur, or person—there is no question he changed our lives profoundly. His passion and creativity led to the development of products that now form a fundamental part of our day-to-day lives.

One of the most profound contributions that Jobs made was his approach to democratizing technology and making the computer cheaper, more intuitive, and accessible to everyday people. At a time when technology was still in the hands of engineers and scientists, Jobs championed the view that everyone should have access to computers. The goal was to create technology that connected with end users; technology that put the power and advantage of computers in the hands of anyone and everyone.

In today’s world we take this for granted, but in its time it was profound. The goal that anyone should be able to use a computer seemed destined for the “too hard basket.” But Jobs’ unrelenting focus on this vision ultimately facilitated the development of products like the Macintosh, iPod, iPad, and iPhone. It fundamentally changed the way we view design and taught us that technology (in all its forms) could be both practical and beautiful.

I don’t need to look too far for evidence that Jobs’ vision has been realised. My mother, who just turned 79, uses her iPad daily to undertake a range of activities. With little ‘interference’ she stays connected with family and friends via Facebook and email, checks online for updates to her bowling league ladder, and despite my perennial harassment, keeps in touch with the latest happenings on “Bold and the Beautiful.” Jobs was right—it is possible to put computers in the hands of everyone.

What if we applied the same vision to leadership? What if we embraced the idea that anyone and everyone should have the opportunity to learn and develop the skills of leadership? In essence, democratize leadership. What impact could this have on individuals, teams, and organisations?

Sound crazy? Well so did the idea of putting computers in the hands of everyone back in the early 1980s. But here is the thing. This is increasingly an imperative for organisations. The skills and qualities that were once considered the domain of leaders are now an essential part of most roles. How do you truly drive innovation, inclusion, purpose and wellbeing without having everyone on board and equipped to ‘lead’ these key priorities?

Here’s a few of things you can do to reframe your approach.

  • A research study concluded that companies should reconsider how they promote and position their leadership development programs and initiatives. Focus less on preparation for a leadership role and more on the development of leadership skills and capabilities.

  • Start by targeting one or two critical skills such as empathy. Empathy is what I refer to as a multiplier skill. It’s a skill that can have impact across multiples situations and contexts and across every stage of someone’s career. Research has found that it not only supports the things we might expect like communication and collaboration, but it also enhances things like decision making, business acumen and innovation.

  • Feedback is central to development and growth as a person. In many cases feedback initiatives such as 360-degree feedback are only made available to formal leadership roles. Open the channels of feedback and in the spirit of growth make feedback available to more people across the organisation.

Leadership is such a fundamental part of our society. Whatever domain of life we choose to engage with, leadership profoundly impacts our experience. A small shift in leadership capability will have a deep impact on the lives of so many people; those who take on formal leadership roles and those who do not.

In the end, will everyone become a CEO? No. Will everyone become a leader? No. That is OK. Just as Jobs never set out to create computer scientists, this is not about the pursuit of ambitious leadership aspirations. This is about putting the skills of leadership in the hands of everyone and giving them the opportunity to be the best they can.

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