On Leadership…

If you’ve been told you’re not good at something at some point in your life, then this is for you.

We talk now about leadership as being separate from management and it is, yet for all bar the last few years it’s been seen as one and the same thing – we all aspired to be “managers” without really understanding that it’s something entirely different.

Early in my career as a “manager”, I was told a number of times that I was “being too nice a guy”, “too kind”, “too friendly with the staff” and therefore “couldn’t distance myself from the staff” and somehow this translated through to “not cut out for leadership”

I spent years believing that there was something in me that made me a poor leader and I tried to bend myself in all sorts of directions to meet other people’s expectations of what a good leader should look like and how they should act, and maybe then I’d be looked at for this type of role once more.

The irony is that the people who gave me that skewed feedback were, on reflection, some of the worst employers I have ever had; they weren’t leaders in and of themselves, they weren’t really even good managers.

They were solely focused on their own career or business with little consideration for others in how they got to where they wanted to be – a total lack of compassion or empathy, and an unwillingness to listen properly.

Then a few years ago as I started to spend time with people I admired as leaders, I learnt about myself and spending time within circles of people who welcome variance of thought, personality and style, I realise just how out of alignment with my beliefs and values I’d become and the impact I actually could have.

What I know about real leadership now, after study and self-reflection is that it is by its very nature about people.

It’s about seeing the people around you, truly seeing them and caring for them so that you can support them to become the very best versions of who they want to be. My time in the ADF after I left school taught me that the military by and large do this well – they’re trained to look out for the person to the left of them and the person to the right of them, that way everyone achieves the objective together – and I started to draw on that lesson again.

Leadership isn’t about being the smartest or most senior person in the meeting or the company, it’s the individual who steps forward and says I can do this – I’ll bring the team along. It’s showing some empathy and giving respect to those around them. And having their backs. Doing what is right, which is not always doing what is easy – it can sometimes be doing the most unpopular thing at the time.

It’s also being vulnerable. Having the guts to admit you’ve made a mistake and being humble enough to find the person who knows how to help you and then asking for their assistance. You’ll note I said humble, not humiliated…

Leadership is all shapes and all sizes. It’s not a fixed model or a fixed mindset, nor is it power, or rank or force.

Leadership is passion and commitment, it’s positivity and confidence, and empathy and humility; it’s communication and the ability to listen, and honesty and vision and so, so much more…

We are all evolving, and our leaders need to be able to weave our individual strengths, capabilities and differences to form the basket which is the sum of us, while striking the balance with ensuring that we are all heard, seen, nurtured, protected and believed in.

And the world badly needs this right now

Oh… And to those people who told me I wasn’t good enough… well, you can guess my retort…