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Holistic Leadership: Leadership Does Not Equal Position

May 15, 2016

Woman Handstanding

If you haven’t already, be sure to download the third edition of my e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership using a Principle-Based Approach

Holistic Leadership is founded upon the premise that each of us must strive throughout our lifetime to become a balanced, centered individual who’s able to effectively use the four principal components of leadership: teaching, directing, participating and nurturing. Of particular significance is to understand the importance of the whole and the inter-relationships among the four principal components.
Many people feel that leadership equals position in organizations. What gets forgotten is that leadership must be earned by a creating a followership. In contrast, management is about appointment to position. In short: if you have no followership, then you’re not a leader, regardless of how many people you have authority over. You can move the deck chairs around on a sinking ship of bad morale and low productivity; however, people are not following you.

The approach under Holistic Leadership, therefore, is to focus on drawing out the leadership that is present in each of us. We all have the potential to take on greater leadership roles in our communities and organizations. However, it’s important that any discussion on leadership be integrated with the individual, the team and the organization.


The roles that people play in today’s organizations have become much more dynamic. We face greater complexity in our work environments as a result of the evolving and more sophisticated needs of customers; growing interdependency in the global economy; technological change; changing organizational structures and work processes; an aging population; and fiscal pressures. For those in managerial positions, they must not only be able to respond to the needs, values and aspirations of their staff, they must also anticipate changes in the future. In short, it’s not an easy gig being a manager in today’s rollercoaster workplace.

With that in mind, it becomes obvious that for organizations to thrive in a rapidly changing economy and society, everyone must practice some form of leadership. Working in a collaborative manner with co-workers is key to helping organizations succeed in the 21st Century. Equally important is enhancing one’s personal leadership, which requires self-discovery and self-awareness.

Consequently, the need has never been greater for leaders at all levels who are capable of functioning effectively in organizations in which diversity and interdependence have become two major yet opposing forces. This requires new behaviors for leaders if they’re to succeed in a complex environment. Let’s look at a practical example of Holistic Leadership in action.

Black Surgeon

A number of years ago I watched a documentary featuring people who worked in demanding occupations. One segment stood out. It was the ER surgeon working in an inner-city hospital. I remember watching the chaos in the emergency room, the gunshot victims, people suffering heart attacks, those with broken limbs, and victims of assault. It was incredible to watch, not because of the carnage and extremely fast pace of the ER, but because of how smoothly the ER staff functioned. Everyone knew their respective roles, carrying out their duties flawlessly.

The surgeon was in charge of the ER and it was remarkable how calm he was in the midst of chaos. He never lost his cool, quietly giving instructions on specific treatments and protocols, listening to the information given by his team members, and acknowledging their efforts. When interviewed later by the journalist, the surgeon spoke about the demanding work and pressures on the ER staff and the need for constant learning. But one comment he made has remained me with me for years. He said in reply to a question on how could staff work in that setting: “My people look to me for leadership. If I lose it, they lose it.”

At the end of his shift the surgeon put on his cap and headed out the door. But was he headed home? No. He was on his way to do volunteer work with inner city children.

Take a moment to reflect on this story. How does this surgeon’s actions represent leadership to you?

The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live.
– Norman Cousins (American political journalist, author, peace advocate, 1915-1990)

Holisti LeadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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