Pervasive Leadership for a VUCA World

by Jean Richardson on May 11, 2017

I’ve been thinking and writing about the Pervasive Leadership (PL) model for several years now.  It is one of the leadership models that can be useful in fostering organizational agility.  I’ve found that when I’ve introduced it to the client organizations I work with, both teams and the surrounding management system leap forward in their understanding of leadership and how certain qualities of leadership can foster agility or impede it.  And, they understand that everyone has an accountability to lead the organization in this VUCA world.

Pervasive Leadership is principle-based.  The principles are:

  • Change your mental model of I and Thou.
  • Act locally; think holistically.
  • Enact empathetic stewardship.

PL is what is known as an embodied form of leadership congruence between the leader’s words, actions, and physical presence are important.  It is a step beyond Servant Leadership in that Servant Leadership can still be seen as a power-over approach to others because the “best test” of Servant Leadership is an evaluation outside of the choosing of those led.  Pervasive Leadership seeks to level the power relationship between the leader and the led by focusing on mutual learning and skill building through action learning projects that move the project or organization forward.

I have witnessed Pervasive Leadership help teams and organizations make a rapid leap forward and cause the light to dawn in the eyes of those who had not previously seen themselves as possible leaders.  I have heard testimony from nominal leaders in the organization that teams who have learned about and begun to practice Pervasive Leadership are much more skilled partners in pursuing organizational objectives.  And, while I find it sometimes challenging to practice, I personally prefer it to Servant Leadership because of my values around the individual’s right and obligation to grow and to lead.

The way that Pervasive Leadership supports organizational agility is to spread skill and power as a means of minimizing decision latency and improving decision quality, key factors in the leadership paradigm which can limit agility.

In a March 2015 article on InfoQ.com on Host Leadership, the author described that model as an implementation of Pervasive Leadership.  More on Host Leadership in my next post.

Below are a number of related posts and articles on Pervasive Leadership:

Use of “Thou” in Pervasive Leadership Principles

We Need No Less Than Pervasive Leadership

The Ease and Hazards of Pervasive Leadership

Pervasive Leadership in 2014

It’s Time for Pervasive Leadership

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