What leadership are we looking for?
Looking for leadership. Is it too soon? Can I dive in? Have I mulled through my thoughts enough?
Emotions (deep, raw, grief-filled), mine, family, friends, and my network aired over the last 17 days.
Should I wait until after the next wave of heat and wind that could leave more devastation?
I think it is time to dive in. It is time to look in the mirror and have a good think. If not now when?
One of my graduates put a comment on social media last night that suggesting that it is time that Affectus (my company) develops and delivers a leadership program for all politicians entering parliament. Wouldn’t we love to. I wonder who might attend?
Now to the questions that have been racing around in my head for months, if not years;
The hero leader model
The hero leader is an oft-used term, but in this opinion piece it in no way refers to any of the amazing people who have been at the frontlines of Australia’s current bushfire crisis.
Dan Forbes talks about hero leaders here.
I have such strong evidence about shared leadership and how it works that sometimes I find it challenging to keep listening when others are speaking.
Then I remember the first part of great leadership is to listen. And so I stop and listen and sometimes I don’t speak at all. As painful and confronting as it is – I listen.
Imagine if what we observed in our leaders was listening.
The problem is that the hero models say that we have all the answers, so listening is limited because answers are at the ready.
Back to the question
With so much anger, pain and distress swirling through much of our nation I wonder whether it is time to think through the question “What leadership are we looking for?”
What are you looking for?
I read and listened as commentators and social media erupted with the words “We need strong/clear leadership”.
But what leadership did you want? This day, this week, this month, this decade?
I think the challenge may be that we need something different at different times and situations.
The challenge of leadership
Which leads me to my initial thoughts.
When Victoria caught fire and I realised a number of my family were trapped in Mallacoota, I probably needed something different to you.
This is the challenge of leadership.
This is the challenge faced if we hold onto the concept that leadership is about one hero, one leader, rescuing us.
They can’t be everywhere.
So, how can leadership work if we need different things, for different people, in different places (physically and psychologically)?
I believe that is the gift of leadership. Leadership is not about one person. It never has been. It is about the collective.
And yet, we have set up a system that seeks only one person, placing us in a difficult position.
Please don’t get me wrong or read this as some soft concept. I actually think reconfiguring our understanding of leadership is really hard.
All things to all people
What traditions do we have to rethink?
We have to review our need for a hero leader. Someone who will be all things to all people.
This person will, incidentally, often be the same person we will attack and blame.
This “all things to all people” person doesn’t exist. They don’t. Think about sports leaders, world leaders, leaders of businesses and companies.
If we continue to believe in this hero leader model (and through that thinking continue to place a single person on the top of the pile), then we have to accept their:
Because they are us.
Really, they are us. And we all know that feeling when we are put into a space that we are completely seen – warts and all.
If we want to avoid going around in Einstein’s circle of insanity (and I know that there is some speculation about the validity of this concept) of thinking then we need to be brave enough to say leadership is not about a hero leader. Leadership is about me and I need to step into my space and be the leader I need.
I have also read lots of commentary about what we didn’t get during this time of national need. So, I am going to really stick my neck out here and have a go at what might have been useful.
What might have been useful
A clear picture of leadership
When I think about those questions and more, I get a clear picture of leadership.
It's many people stepping into a leadership space.
I believe this, not the hero leader, is the truth about leadership.
As I ponder my questions further I sit here in my office, knowing that tomorrow and the next day, and the many days after, will be dangerous days in my part of the world.
I know that many people have sacrificed so, so much.
I understand that sections of my part of the world will possibly never recover.
But I do ache for leadership. A new leadership where we all understand (including those at the top of the hierarchy) that someone should not feel compelled to be our hero. Instead it is about us stepping into that leadership space that we all see.
What leadership do you want?
More importantly, how can we build a leadership style in our community that saves us from a hero leader who can never do it all?