Nigel Nicholson Ph.D.

The 'I' of Leadership

The ‘I’ of Leadership

Strategies for seeing, being and doing

Posted Apr 16, 2013

No subject in management is more written about than leadership. That’s the problem – there is so much it makes your head spin, whether you’re a manager or a scholar in the field. Much of it is wonderful stuff – great stories, sensible lists, helpful hints, grand theories, but when your head has stopped spinning you can just feel alienated and depressed. You can’t live out the lives of heroic leaders past and present. All these great ideas depend on circumstances and opportunities that you just don’t have. And so much seems to be about what it takes to lead an American Plc.

I’ve been developing my own way of making sense of leadership over many years from working with leaders, which has shown me that there are many really different ways of leading effectively and lots of really different leadership situations to lead. So I decided to put it all down, in a simple framework that anyone can use to analyse their own leadership situation, or any leadership situation that they see in the world around them. The theme is adaptation. I am an evolutionary psychologist which means that we need to make sense of leadership as something that humans have done since the dawn of human history, and indeed is visible in many other species.

I have tried to give a complete account that explains how leadership has changed over the millennia, how it applies to politics, business, indeed every walk of life, in as clear and readable fashion as possible, with lots of stories and examples at every turn. I have many, observations, conclusions and recommendations that I will share with you in future blogs, but let me just give you one or two of the main arguments.

One is that almost all generalisations about leadership fail. Why? Because there are as many ways of leading as there are leadership situations. It’s a matter of shot selection. Lying down fast asleep might be the best thing a leader can do – if that is what the situation requires. I have a simple recipe I call the Leadership Formula. Effective leadership means being the right person, at the right time and place, doing the right thing.

Simple, eh? Readers will see this bristles with potential difficulties and it has a sting in the tail. The sting is that situations change faster than persons, so this is a continual adaptive challenge. In future blogs I shall be exploring these.

My new book, The 'I' of Leadership, be published April 8th by Jossey Bass (late May in the US). Please check out what people are saying about the book and where you can get it, on

About the Author

Nigel Nicholson, Ph.D., is a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School.

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