Leadership is a context sport

(This article was originally posted at http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leadership-context-sport-kiko-suarez-phd)

Like most of you, I consider myself a “practitioner” of leadership. Whether at work or at home, life provides each one of us unique opportunities to “lead”. So many people ask me, “why did you get a PhD in Leadership and Change?”. My banker asked if I had made any ROI calculations. What? Nooo. Others said if I did it to become a professor. Not really!. “So why?”, they ask me My answer has been to be able to reflect, discuss and contribute with original content about these topics -including “innovation” if you think about it as “change”- with people like you!

What have I learned about leadership and change? First is that leadership implies change, and change requires leadership. Second, and more importantly, that leadership is about context. It took me a while to figure this out, particularly in a world where change is constant, and it seems there’s little one can do around “context”.

Leadership is a context sport. Of course leaders need to have certain level of “content knowledge”, but the actual substance of leadership is context. Of course leaders need to develop people skills, because it’s all about people, right? Yes, but leadership is not only about “the people”, but about “all of us in context”.

Leadership is the craft of setting context to achieve the desired outcome/s.

And yes, this one is added to all other definitions of leadership out there. I’m not saying “go ahead and replace all existing descriptions of leadership with this one!”. What I’m trying to say is that lacking “context setting” skills make your leadership less effective. By the way, studying leaders and studying leadership are two different sides of the coin: setting context for the achievement of specific / desired outcomes. There are scholars studying “leaderless leadership”, in other words, leadership that is distributed and exercised by many in absence of a clear “leader”. And yet, the craft of setting context, even more in a distributed environment, for the achievement of specific outcomes, is leadership.

Setting context involves you (yourself, your organization, your business, your Uber car, whatever it is) as part of the game. Setting context for the achievement of certain outcomes doesn’t take you out of the picture, on the contrary, your mere presence most likely alters the picture and requires you in the picture. I believe that thinking about leadership as context -more than content- is a very powerful framework for most of us. It allows us to think broadly, at system level, considering direct and indirect engagement and effects, connections with other systems, multiple actors and stakeholders, etc. If I say “think context” your field of vision is, all of a sudden, much wider.

Setting context is not about adjusting each and every part of a system to achieve the desired outcome. It might actually require a small tweak to achieve the specific outcomes, in which case that specific leadership action would be a lot more subtle, barely perceived by most.

Leadership is not just the action of “taking the lead”, but the craft of setting context to get things done through self and others (whether they are people, animals, plants, computers, androids, the Force… you know what I mean!). And very likely there will be no easy way to “getting things done”, because it’s never as easy as 1–2–3. Context needs to be ready so change can occur and things can happen, and that’s what leadership is all about.

#BeWise and think context.