The power of ‘We’ leadership


Many years ago, when I attended a leadership training course, the trainer told me that because I was an Asian, female and relatively short, I needed to work harder to deliver leadership presence – just like he himself was short and bald and he needed to work harder. This is the typical traditional concept of “I” leadership.

Years later, I came across Harvard Business School Professor Bill George’s book on Authentic Leadership. I applied to attend his course in Boston, where he was teaching “We” leadership.

Over recent years, the world has started to shift from the more charismatic leaders focusing on “I” leadership to more authentic leaders considering “We” leadership – the type of leadership I believe works well both in Western culture and Asian culture. In fact, it works well in the increasingly collaborative style of a global economy. 

The professors at Bill’s course were all brilliant, delivering the key concepts of authentic leadership in their own different styles. The deepest learning experience was, however, from my small team, comprising of members from many different countries, races and religions. The learning started from opening up to, and trusting, each member in the group.

Once you gave the trust to the group, the experience was unexpected and very rewarding. I was experiencing authentic leadership in action.

Compared with “I” leadership, “We” leadership is about serving others, instead of attaining power and position; it is about purpose driven decisions, instead of self-interested decisions; it is about aligning through values, instead of compliance with rules only; and it is about being humble, instead of arrogant.

In this era, power is not only the position you hold but increasingly the extent of networks you belong to. Many of the most successful companies are the ones which provide a platform for business collaboration, such as Uber – the taxi company without owing a taxi, and Alibaba – the online shopping mall without owning a shop. 

The openness, collaboration and the spirit of serving others constitutes true leadership, and it is a much more enduring style of leadership in the new business environment and in a global environment.

Confucius once said: “In a group of three people, there is always something I can learn from. Choose to follow the strengths of others, use the shortcomings to reflect upon ourselves.” Everyone has something unique and extraordinary to offer. The collaborative group creates much better results.


Find out more about the 2015 Women, Management and Work conference here.

Jingmin Qian is a guest speaker at the upcoming Macquarie University Women, Management and Work Conference, to be held in Sydney on 6 November 2015. The conference will feature some of the most innovative ideas of leadership and progressive management concepts, presented by thought leaders in organisational management and diversity. Get your tickets here.

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