When you think of the word “leader” what comes to mind? For lots of people, the picture that comes to mind is the charismatic visionary that sets a direction that people want to follow. All too often, that model of leadership fails because the followers inevitably end up disappointed and disengaged when the leader is incapable of delivering everything he or she promised.
Harvard Kennedy School professor Dean Williams, my guest on this episode of The Next Level podcast, offers a different way to think about and practice leadership. In his new book, Leadership for a Fractured World: How to Cross Boundaries, Build Bridges, and Lead Change , Williams makes a compelling case that the most effective leaders are the ones who help groups identify the adaptive challenge and take on the work of change themselves.
Leaders who do this are what Williams calls “global change agents.” As he says in our conversation, it’s not that they necessarily take on global-scale challenges but rather that they look at the world and act in an integrated way. Global change agents stand in contrast to those who practice what Williams calls “the big man” model of leadership. "Big men" and "big women" leaders set themselves up as the focal point of hopes and aspirations. In a complex, multimodal world, that’s a recipe for failure.
This interview is a little longer than my average podcast because Williams has a lot of thought-provoking stories, ideas and suggestions that require a little bit of soaking time. When you have 30 minutes for a conversation that would well change your own approach to leadership, give it a listen.