“I would like to be remembered not as anyone unique or special, but as part of a great team...The greatest glory of living lies not in ever failing, but in rising every time you fall.” – Nelson Mandela, 1918 – 2013.
The learning experience for LE 13MB02 (Leadership and Excellence) ended on a high last Friday, and I am back to my department now. It was a wonderful, inspiring adventure all the way to the end, and the lessons of those two weeks will stay with me for a long, long time.
At the end of my learning curve, and the beginning of a new one, I have the following to share with you:
Leadership is a call to service
Leadership is a higher calling in the service of mankind through the works of your hands, no matter what that job may be. Service connotes a certain humility and purity of objectives that seeks the advantage/advancement of a task, an organisation, or the life and well-being of another person other than yourself. We must never forget that it is a privilege to lead.
I had the opportunity to lead one of the module exercises, and I was handed a situation that was fraught with tension and acrimony. On completion of this task, there were both positive and negative reactions to my leadership style. Even though we were able to negotiate a compromise to the delight of ‘management’, the process eroded a certain bond that had built up between me and certain members of my team because of the ‘hat’ I had put on in a simulated professional capacity.
Should this deter us from ever volunteering to take a leading role sometime in the future? Absolutely not! However, it will pay us well to constantly remind ourselves to discharge our leadership functions with the attitude of service.
Leading ‘from behind’
After my experience of leading the simulation exercise, as described above, I discovered that more often than not the best leadership is exercised by people without positional power. While this method of leadership can involve explicit direction, its main role is that of a catalyst/shaper/finisher/motivator, and it takes guts!
For the remainder of the module week, I deliberately declined any further opportunity to be appointed as a leader for group exercises. Rather, I chose to ‘lead from behind’ – to steer the performance of a group of people from a vantage point of experience and expertise. I immediately noticed that this took the pressure of anyone feeling intimidated, and I was able to make maximum contribution on every task.
Would we always need to adopt this method? No – but, we must remind ourselves to tailor our decisions according to the situation and requirements.
Leadership & Innovation
The ability to lead outside the remit of positional power is what distinguishes people that can innovate and break free of the constraints that limit their colleagues. Innovation is about breaking the rules/thinking outside the box, and leadership is all about innovation. The rarity of true innovation is a direct result of the dearth of true leadership in most organisations and teams. This can be explained by the fact that innovation requires someone to be a rebel of sorts, to go against the ‘status quo’ or the establishment. This very characteristic is particularly frightening to holders of positional power, who may misconstrue a ‘rebel’ as a threat to the integrity of their position.
I witnessed this scenario occur repeatedly in my team, as well as some other groups, throughout the module week. Most of the appointed leaders would rather be ‘right’ and have the final word than cede that a member of their team had the answer to the problems they were meant to solve.
Should this common phenomenon deter us from bringing bright ideas to aid our teams/organisations in resolving issues? I think not.
Leadership: Walking the talk
It’s easy to be a leader when things are going well, however, it is how we lead our teams under pressure and react in times of crises that defines us. Leadership is a tremendous responsibility but also a great honour; how we lead our teams or organisations today will shape how those team members lead in the future.
Great leaders can only succeed by becoming a role model for those who choose to follow. In other words, your personal values must align with your words, thoughts and actions. Make the effort to become a ‘great person’ - a person who is guided by wholesome ethics and principles, and in so doing you will become a great leader!
Certainly, there is a need for basic leadership skills, such as communication and negotiating skills, but these are simply the skills that bring us to the table and afford us the opportunity to develop into great leaders.