As a long-time fan of David Gurteen’s Knowledge Cafés, I was pleased to learn of the latest online café being offered via Zoom, on the timely issue of leadership. In the current Covid-19 crisis we have all been acutely aware of both the quality of leadership displayed by those in power around the world and of the way in which information – whether accurate or not – about the virus is being disseminated. David has a particular interest in the concept of ‘conversational leadership’ and opened the session with a quote from Steve Jobs: “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” There has been a shift away from the concept of leadership as authority towards the idea of leadership as practice. In a hyperconnected world, we all need to step forward and practice leadership.
As per the usual Knowledge Café format, we were split into small groups for three rounds of more intimate conversation and were invited to consider the following questions: what do you make of the idea of leadership as a practice? Do you think it is realistic that we can all choose to practice leadership? How might you improve your practice of leadership? What are you passionate about? One of the advantages of the virtual version of the café format is the possibility of discussing such issues with people from all over the world – I found myself in groups with participants from South Africa, Germany and Spain as well as from the UK. We all shared experiences of how we felt leadership was being displayed in our respective countries, not just by governments but by individuals, small businesses and voluntary organisations, particularly during the current pandemic.
The session concluded with a whole group discussion focused on the topic of ‘leadership as practice’, which touched on many interesting points such as leadership being situational and contextual. A different kind of leadership may be necessary during wartime, for example, or even in times of international crisis like the present. We did not come to any firm conclusions, but David reminded us that sometimes the most important thing is to ask the right questions.
If you want to explore some of these ideas, David has a ‘blook’ (a mixture of a blog and a book) on the topic of conversational leadership . You can find out more about David’s work and the Knowledge Café concept at the Gurteen Knowledge website where you can also become a member of the Gurteen Knowledge Community and sign up to the Knowledge Newsletter (free of charge) to receive regular updates on developments and events in knowledge management and related areas.