Inner leaders have a goal of producing high performance. They also have the duty to create of their followers highly developed, self-led leaders who can exercise the necessary power to function more or less independently within the constraints of the values and vision set by the leader. The various traditional leadership theories each argued that their brand of leadership would result in enhanced productivity. They sought improved follower performance measured in physical (tangible) goal terms. The follower remains in each of these models subservient to the leader. These models essentially cast workers as tools to help achieve the leader’s personal or institutional goals—in past theory they are targets of power rather than wielders of power in the work community.
The inner-leadership model is unique in its emphasis on improving the individual follower’s capacity for self-directed action to accomplish shared goals. Both the context and specific methods of this power technique move the follower toward this result, along with performance improvement. Inner leader success is attaining both results. Failing this, leaders must alter or improve either the corporate culture or the techniques they employ in a given situation.
This double objective activates all facets of the leader’s job. The open, self-guiding culture fostered by in-the-middle leaders aids in the realization of this outcome. The vision they create includes this outcome. So must the skills and techniques they use. All action by the leader needs to communicate this objective (along with all others) to followers. Inner leadership is changing lives—the leader’s own and those of his work colleagues. The job is to create a climate and the conditions that foster follower autonomy and development. The direction of the follower life-change sought is toward a more empowered follower. It is a task of changing followers to help them be independent, free, and self-governing.
Inner leaders redefine success. As they share governance, this action has a tremendous impact on both workers and leaders. As the work done changes, leader and led change, as do their measures of success. Success, defined as being “in-charge,” is the traditional norm and is as dependent on factors outside the individual’s control—luck, the whims of others, office politics, and so on—as it is on personal capacity. Accepting this conventional definition of success is to lose much of the potential influence inner leaders may have over their destiny and the future they envision for themselves and for their followers and the work community they lead. Effective inner leaders resist allowing the terms of their success to be determined by others—by anything outside themselves.
Nonetheless, the traditional definition of success is a seductive lure. Our society is preoccupied with winning and personal prominence, and these can become accepted and expected outcomes of the leader’s work. Certainly, they have come to be central in the conventional textbook definitions of leadership success. Once inner leaders accept the concept of shared governance, the definition of success necessarily changes. Instead of being successfully in charge, inner leaders come to think about success as a personal, intimate, feeling of satisfaction in seeing themselves, as well as their colleagues in the work community, put to use more of their whole selves at work.
Perceptive inner leaders define success not just in terms of being famous or anything else that comes from external sources. For them, success is defined by the scope of (1) workplace parameters they can influence and (2) “ developed” followers. Thus, success is attained as inner leaders nurture followers’ talents and let them practice those talents in a variety of satisfying ways and in different venues (Heenan and Bennis, 1999). It can be found in providing a designated service to a stakeholder or in a personal talent they strengthen. Success is also defined as achieving peace of mind and satisfaction—even fun—in seeing protegées fulfilling designated responsibilities.
Leading self-governing work communities requires a kind of leadership orientation particularly adapted to leadership in the middle: stewardship (Block, 1993). Block and others have effectively refocused attention on the nature of the relationship between leader and follower to one that can be conveniently encapsulated in the ideas of service and stewardship. Block defined stewardship as holding something in trust for another. Inner leaders are trustees ( stewards) as they see their organization as a shared community and each stakeholder as a coequal leader.