Leadership is a contested paradigm, and that is about the only thing upon which leadership scholars and practitioners usually agree. Many learned and experienced people have sought, over decades if not centuries and millennia, to identify a magic potion of leadership that can be bottled and administered to aspiring recipients. Needless to say, this has never been achieved. Leaders are unique human beings, organisations are fluid and diverse, and the global environment for business is changing more rapidly than ever.
One area where there does seem to be a developing consensus is the view that leadership is no longer about macho, heroic individuals. It is now seen much more as an embedded ethos and the relationship between leaders and followers is recognised as a vital element of success. Additionally, attributes of leadership such as authenticity, humility and vision are being encouraged.
It is within that leader-follower relationship that the "Secure Base Leader" can flourish, by eliminating fear in followers that may inhibit their performance. The authors suggest a combination of "safety and stretch", where leaders find power in the face of great obstacles, even where their authority is not formally possessed (here, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi are given as examples). This theory is explored both from the position of having a secure base and of being a secure base.
George Kohlrieser, Susan Goldsworthy and Duncan Coombe are all leadership coaches based at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland. Each brings a unique perspective to this work, led by Kohlrieser, who draws on his background as a hostage negotiator. It was Coombe's doctoral thesis that distilled the team's ideas into the nine characteristics of Secure Base Leadership that are explored at length here, along with tools for self-assessment and development. The book's ideas are clearly expressed and greatly enhanced by numerous examples and anecdotes drawn from the authors' experiences.
Benefiting from a grounding in the leadership and developmental literature, and employing a robust research design, the text builds through a process of self-awareness and examination to identify the elements of Secure Base Leadership, both that which we each need and that which we can offer to others. This hinges on the safety/risk paradox and considers how care, safety and comfort can be provided alongside dare, challenge and risk. Although the fundamentals draw upon the psychoanalyst John Bowlby's attachment theory, the authors suggest that this must be a joint attachment to both people and goals. In addition, the secure base of the "leader" must be willingly accepted by the "follower" in order for the latter to dare to undertake the challenges before them.
The metaphor of the climber and the belayer is used to illustrate the main principles. In climbing, the belayer provides a safe and secure anchor point for the climber to take controlled risks on the rock face. This is the role that organisational leaders should adopt to provide the solid platform for their people to perform at their peak and deliver innovative and extraordinary results in a fast-moving, volatile and sometimes hostile business environment.
The degree of deep personal exploration in this book may not readily appeal to hardened leadership types who believe that macho, heroic leadership skills using key performance indicators and metrics are the only ways to drive performance. Nevertheless, they would be advised to follow its journey of enlightenment to really understand the relationship between leaders and followers, in which each needs their own secure bases to perform at their best. Another thing that both leadership scholars and practitioners would agree on is that it is all, at heart, about relationships.
Care to Dare: Unleashing Astonishing Potential Through Secure Base Leadership
By George Kohlrieser, Susan Goldsworthy and Duncan Coombe, John Wiley & Sons, 336pp, £18.99, ISBN 9781119961574, Published 15 June 2012