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Connecting Leaders - Preparing the next generation

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Published: 11 March 2022

University of Sunderland in London student studying

What makes a great leader in the modern business world? Afzal Munna argues for ‘Connected Leadership’, a theory based on the principles of collaboration and connectivity throughout the workplace. 

In this forward-looking article, he explains why you as a student at the University of Sunderland in London, should be thinking about this now. 

“As any of you studying modules in business will know, lots of explanations exist for what exactly we mean when we use the word ‘leadership’. 

For my part, I see it as the process of directing others to achieve a goal.  

This, in my view, can only be achieved through understanding, engaging, empowering and motivating employees to accomplish whatever purpose it is you’ve set out towards. 

‘Leadership’ is often a word that gets mixed up with ‘manager’, but they’re not necessarily the same thing. 

While many leaders are indeed managers, a leader obviously provides something beyond the everyday actions of a person hired to manage a team. 

Whereas a manager is coldly described as a strategic administrator a leader must be both inspirational and visionary to deserve the title. 

In fact, when we look at it more closely, huge divisions between the two emerge.  

The practice of management has even started to sound outdated and out of touch with the way modern businesses seek to present themselves. 

But, as students of business, it’s worth asking ourselves if this division needs to be thrown out and an attempt to bring the two concepts back together again through the theory of ‘Connecting Leaders’ 

The fundamental principle involved here is simply this: leaders are followers and followers can also be leaders. 

What that means is a middle manager, with responsibility for people below them on the company structure and being accountable to those above them, can build a strong bond with both groups. 

That puts the middle manager in a really important position in a company, with the opportunity to reduce the distance between all levels in their organisation. 

So why do we need to think about this? As students preparing to enter the business world in positions of leadership, it’s important to understand the complex challenges you could be facing. 

We need a new approach, one which helps to connect rather than distance, that can be agile, authentic and recognises the abilities of all members of an organisation and seeks to act collaboratively for the benefit of all. 

Connecting Leadership is focused on leading through influence rather than the old ways of hierarchies that are increasingly making less sense in modern business.  

It relies greatly on the ability of those practising it to be fantastic communicators across all levels of an organisation - a skill worth working on now in preparation for life after graduation. 

A Connecting Leader is authentic as a role model and sees the importance of building collaboration in their companies.  

Being a clear leader who revels in encouraging learning and sharing power are important aspects of anyone wanting to succeed in the business world. 

While Connecting Leaders is a new and developing practice, it has its roots in the very foundations of our industry - authenticity, complexity and the distribution of leadership roles. 

By having its basis in such familiar concepts, we’re not so much changing the way management happens as we are growing from what came before us.  

That gives us a better chance at succeeding in our aims of making the workplace a more thoughtful, collaborative world, something for which there is an immense need in the 21st century.” 

Afzal Munna is a lecturer in undergraduate business at the University of Sunderland in London and the author of the article ‘What does it mean to be a leader?’.  

If you’re interested in studying with Afzal, check out the BA (Hons) Business and Management course. 

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