Woody – Leading without authority

2012 is the 100 years anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie. Woody is a legend and is recognised as the “grand-daddy” of folk music tradition. But he was much more than that. He was a poet, a writer, and a social commentator. He spoke out against injustice at a time when it was dangerous to do so. He inspired new generations of musicians, from Bob Dylan to The Clash.

I attended a tribute and celebration to Woody this week in the traditional coal-mining community of Treorchy in the South Wales valleys.  This was led by Billy Bragg, who has worked closely with Woody’s daughter Nora, to put music to lyrics by her father that had never been recorded. Billy, like Woody, is a songwriter and performer in the Guthrie mould.  Politically active, angry about injustice, optimistic about humanity.  It was a touching, funny and moving tribute, where Bragg warmly and respectfully held up a lens into Woody’s world and into his incredible mind.

His legacy is enormous and more than I could ever do justice in this short post.  To discover more about Woody go check out the official website.  I do, however, want to highlight some words he penned that he called his New Years Rulin’s. These words were written as simple resolutions, and, although simple, are both profound and meaningful words of wisdom that would not look out of place in any self-respecting ‘self-help’ book….This is a selection of his Rulin’s (for a look at his original list in full go to this link)

  • “Dream Good”
  • “Stay Glad”
  • “Keep Hoping Machine Running”
  • “Love Everybody”
  • “Make up your Mind”
  • “Read lots Good Books”
  • “Learn People Better”
  • “Help win War – beat Fascism”       (note: Woody was not afraid to dream big and believe that his music could achieve big things. He famously had the words “This machine kills fascists” written on his guitar).

How appropriate might these simple guidelines be to leaders, in all walks of life, today?

Woody Guthrie was a special kind of leader. He had no formal authority, he had no position of power.  He did not command political position, nor did he operate within corporate, government or religious frameworks. Yet, he Continue reading


Leadership as an Activity

Ask people to define leaders or leadership and I’m willing to bet they will think of it in terms of people. Figures of authority. Historical figures who have led countries, movements, armies. There is no doubting that the people they mention will have been leaders (good or bad). But it misses the point about leadership. Leadership is not defined by the position or authority one possesses or has been granted. It is better thought of as an ‘activity’. Leadership is evident in the behaviour displayed by people and is measured largely by the extent to which the activity mobilises others to accept responsibility for owning issues, changing conditions and tackling tough challenges. Note, the important point here is about mobilising others. True, leaders can and often do take action and make decisions, but I believe the most significant measure of leadership is the extent to which leaders are able to focus other’s attention on the need to take action. That is the mark of true Leadership. That is what causes real change and alters mindsets, and, very importantly, does not encourage dependence.

I recommend a great read on this topic. Ronald Heifetz who wrote Leadership Without Easy Answers.
If you want to hear a review, have a listen to the attached file which I have recorded. It is less than 15 minutes in duration and will give you more insight to the content of this great book.
Book Review Audio