I have been thinking about the adjectives we put in front of the term leadership. For example, we have:

  • sustainable leadership
  • ethical leadership
  • socially responsible leadership
  • nature-based leadership
  • regenerative leadership
  • mindful leadership

…and so much more. It is interesting to me that we feel the need to add an adjective to the word in order for people to differentiate it. 

When we add the word sustainable to the term leadership, we are saying that the kind of leadership we are practicing will create a more sustainable outcome. This implies the assumption that as a stand-alone word, leadership isn’t designed to create a sustainable outcome. As another example, ethical leadership is about the way leadership is practiced. At its core, ethical leadership informs all decisions and actions a leader or organization does. Once again, there is an implied assumption that “leadership” is not focused on the ethics of its decisions or impact. 

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Many of the adjectives we place in front of the term leadership are designed to differentiate leadership from mainstream practices, or the specific way leadership is practiced (ethical, mindful, conscious, etc.). What makes this simple observation stunning is that on an unconscious level, we already know that the way current leadership is practiced is not ethical, sustainable, socially responsible, or any of the other adjectives we use to measure impact. 

What if we added adjectives to leadership as it is modeled today?

If we are adding adjectives to the term leadership to differentiate it from what is currently passing for “leadership”, we’re invited to reflect on the adjectives we would use to name the impact of our current practices. Here are some possibilities that I have thought of:

  • Self-interest leadership
  • Power-hungry leadership
  • Destructive leadership
  • Profit over everything leadership
  • Degenerative leadership

…and the list goes on. If the adjectives we use help us see the impact of the leadership being practiced, then it behooves us to start naming what our current leadership practices are creating. This way we can more clearly consider if we want an individual or organization’s leadership in a position of power, if we want to support an organization with our investment dollars, and offer our talent to help an organization or individual leaders achieve their goals. 

Let’s start applying adjectives based on the impact and outcome of leadership

If we start to name the impact of the core practices in use by leaders and organizations today, I believe we could start seeing the consequences of the leadership being modeled and exercised. It is an important step for us to connect the practices of leaders and leadership and the impact they have on people and our world over time. This will strengthen our ability to assess leadership while inviting us to actively decide if we want to support those leaders and organizations.

Would we elect leaders who are labeled as self-interested or unethical leaders? Would we support organizations that are making daily decisions that would make parts of our world unlivable in the future?