When my intolerance against #newleadership, #distributedleadership and the like grows into a big cloud, I decide to make it rain down in something useful. In an early morning in bed, before rushing to the office, I write about what really matters for leadership, beyond the stunning beaming, buzzing, blaring buzzwords. This is my experience after years of leadership in the civil society space:
#1 – A leader is visionary. A compass. An inspiration to team members. As a leader I’m driven by a vision and I communicate it, I share my passion and sometimes my story (with new people), I set the direction (but don’t plan the details) & create goals and then get everyone on board. I’m not afraid of taking risks. I don’t delegate decisions if it’s me who has to take them. I communicate clearly – also the bad news, give all the info necessary, ask direct questions to clarify things. Responsibility towards the team starts with myself: I’m organized and I find ways to keep an overview. A leader demonstrates confidence, and thus makes others feel secure.
#2 – A leader is also human. Between the funny parts and the „being overwhelmed or still figuring out things“ parts. I’m authentic and honest at all times and I invite the team to be that too. Successes and failures go together. I bring in non-work things and the sharing of personal stories, but I don’t speak of “wellbeing” or other buzzwords if I don’t have a plan there; I don’t create false expectations, bubbles separate from the world. Yes, I speak of “war”, I don’t pretend.
#3 – As a leader I am by definition team-focused, I have „my“ team I’m working in, I’m well rooted in it, I feel responsible for it and my role is clear to others. I get to know my team members, I’m interested in them. I manage projects, build partnerships, but I LEAD people (and EMPOWER them to lead all along, a precondition to modern leadership). Having a team also means to empower team members to get the best work out of themselves, to help them figure out how to bring in their passions & background in unique ways and adjust tasks accordingly.
#4 – Presence is key for leadership. For me it means leading meetings regularly and also processes visible to the team, speaking up, giving strategic input. I constantly try to bring order into the chaos, sharing overviews and insights into strategy, breaking down the big things happening and staying on top of key news so we can actually act on them. It’s also about sharing what I know, reminding of resources, leading by example – in reporting/transparency, inclusion, good organisation etc. Empowering with honesty and transparency.
5# – I foster ideas / am quick in picking up ideas from the team, I invite people to try out new things (if time permits). I take any concerns seriously, respond to feedback (am generally responsive), give advice and invite the team to ask others or me for advice, and importantly I create spaces. Bringing people together to avoid working in silos – this is a huge thing, this is coordination. And it brings efficiency and motivation. Also, inviting discussions about norms and how we want to work together. I contribute to the resolution of conflicts (especially when I’m the reason). I keep an eye out for people who are disconnected, I reach out and offer support.
Leadership feels like gardening sometimes, and it’s exciting to see a team (and just the individual humans in there honestly more) grow.