Leadership Is Not a Solitary Activity

Leadership is often discussed in the context of the individual, e.g. What makes a great leader?  What are the necessary traits for an effective leader?  What are the key activities performed by effective leaders?  Focusing solely on the leader’s activities or traits does not take into account the fact that leadership is not a solitary activity but rather involves the relationships among a leader and their followers.  Followers include all stakeholders such as employees, peers, bosses, and customers.  The perspective that leadership extends beyond an individual and takes into account the interaction amongst individuals led to my doctoral research on leadership dyads.  My research findings indicate that high-quality leadership dyads provide a strong example of what actions an organization can take to improve the readiness of its leaders (Hartman, 2016).

The top three activities that an organization should take to improve their leadership cadre are:

  • Recognize the importance of the development of soft skills such as relationship management. The ability to effectively manage relationships with all stakeholders is a critical success factor for good leaders.
  • Provide opportunities for candidates to establish mentoring relationships throughout their careers. It is very important to provide leadership candidates with opportunities to create mentoring and coaching relationships outside of the candidate’s supervisory chain.
  • Provide more on-the-job opportunities for candidates to practice leadership skills in a more protected environment where the candidate gets coaching through the process. This enables the candidates to get experience and face time with senior leaders in the organization.

I am not proposing to discard the development of traditional leadership skills such as strategic thinking, financial management, innovation, and good communication skills.  All of those skills are important to lead a well-functioning organization.  The key take-away is that leadership development programs should lessen the focus on individual performance and stress the importance of how the candidate builds and manages relationships with all stakeholders.  My position is that a leader has to guide the people that make up their organization to reach achievements they never thought possible.  Also that leaders should strive to leave the organization and the people that comprise it better than when they took charge of it.


Hartman, M. (2016). Improving leadership readiness for the senior executive service: A sequential mixed methods analysis of SES dyads (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). California Intercontinental University, Irvine, CA.

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