A profession is more than a job -- it is a community and a culture. Professions serve society by pooling knowledge among their members and creating incentives to synthesize new knowledge. They also help their members to build networks, find jobs, recruit staff, find collaborators, and organize around the issues that affect them. In a world without change or innovation, professions would not be so necessary. But in a world where change and innovation are ever more intense, every occupation needs more of the institutions and culture of traditional professions such as law, medicine, engineering, education, librarianship, public administration, business, and architecture.
Every profession has leaders. In a formal sense, the elected officers of a professional society are the leaders of that profession. Because a profession is fundamentally about knowledge, however, the true leaders of a profession are the thought leaders: the individuals who synthesize the thinking of the profession's members and articulate directions for the future. Sometimes a profession will elect its thought leaders to official positions. But often the thought leaders prefer to lead through writing and speaking, cutting-edge projects, conference organizing, and dialogue. Leadership means both talking and listening, both vision and consensus. A leader builds a web of relationships within the profession and articulates the themes that are emerging in the thinking of the profession as a whole.
In a knowledge-intensive world of ceaseless innovation and change, I assert, every professional must be a leader. This is not a universally popular idea. Some people say, "leadership is fine for others, but I just want a job". I want to argue that it doesn't work that way. The skills that the leader exercises in building a critical mass of opinion around emerging issues are the same skills that every professional needs to stay employed at all. In the old days the leadership-averse could hide out in bureaucracies. But as institutions are turned inside out by technology, globalization, and rising public and client expectations of every sort, the refuges are disappearing. Every professional's job is now the front lines, and the skills of leadership must become central to everyone's conception of themselves as a professional.