Leadership in this country is in turmoil. The leaders who thought they were strong have revealed significant vulnerability in terms of their judgements and their support. Those who were thought to be weak have done much better than predicted. As a result we are left with political leadership that is uncertain, wounded and exposed. We may be even more confused when we look further afield where strong , popular leadership seems to be associated with manipulation at unprecedented levels. Can we learn anything from the general upheaval that faces us and does it have anything to teach leaders in other areas of life?
First and foremost we must take seriously the fact that we have to take our own leadership seriously. We can’t afford to assume anything. The longer we are in leadership the greater the danger that we begin to become too self satisfied and believe too much in the rightness of our own thinking. We must not take for granted how important leadership and leading is in politics, in business, and in social functioning in general. We just can’t function without leaders. We know this because even in informal social groups if no leaders are appointed, leaders will still eventually emerge!
Taking our own leadership seriously involves keeping an eye on the impact our leadership is having. Is it working for the other people involved? What about those who are disaffected by our leadership? How are we moving things forward in positive ways? Where are we failing? We might get answers to these evaluative questions from our own rumination, reflecting on our work - assuming we allow time for that. But that is definitely not good enough as we need to listen carefully and non-defensively to the feedback of the others around us - not just our faithful supporters.
Successful and sustained leadership is always collaborative. Leadership is not a private act conducted in secret with nothing revealed until all the plans are perfected. We live in an age where people demand transparency - an age where everyone is potentially knowledge-rich, and people expect to be consulted over the things that deeply affect them. It is not about paying lip service to consulting others. Real collaboration is where we work closely with those who complement our experience. knowledge, and skills to deliver something more rounded, more creative and more astounding. Collaborative leadership only works when we understand the tension that exists in all of us - the tension between the need to assert our individualism and the need to accept and value the contributions of others.
Successful and sustained leadership is knowing when to stand back and to allow others to take the lead when they have better skills, more experience or greater expertise in particular circumstances.
Effective and resilient leadership, especially when the going gets tough, is about knowing ourselves and our inner resources really well and knowing how to extract energy and retain positive momentum.
Effective and resilient leadership is about knowing what to do when we fail, and be assured there will be times when we fail, knowing how to admit our mistakes and look for new ways forward. It involves keeping other people’s respect and confidence even in the mess.
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Dr Anton Baumohl