leader isn’t just a job title

Leaders surround us. It’s not just about being the boss, or being on the “leadership” team or the Exec or a member of the “C-Suite”. I have had the extreme good fortune to know leaders across all levels in every role in every  organisation I’ve been in. People who provide a high level of human interaction others relate to. People who are leaders in their religion, race, peer group, sport, school and even their relationship.

Leaders show others great examples of excellent behaviour. They show people a different way. They provide an alternative solution to a difficult problem, or they simply role model how to be engaged, peaceful, resilient or unruffled. They have empathy. They show concern and they help our problems not feel as big as we make them in our head.

A post-Covid world might look very different around leadership. I feel there is an even bigger shift towards empathetic leaders. It’s no surprise that we are drawn to people who are interested in who we are, what we can contribute, how we live our lives and what impact we can have on others. We need a place to belong, a people to connect with and someone – or a group of someones who can relate to our purpose. 

The old fashioned ways of leadership is no longer best fit. Much like Zoom during lockdown allowed us to see the whole person – or at least their bookcase, art, dogs and children – leaders need to start looking as if they were in the Zoom Room of your life. 

Some of the best examples of leadership I have encountered have been demonstrated by a 20 year old apprentice and a 40 year old admin assistant. Neither of them had any ambitions to be part of the C-Suite – so not a traditional leader. They lived exemplary lives, filled with compassion, generosity and a dedication and commitment to their role and the people around them. People chose to follow them because they were inherently good. I recently posted a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson about having succeeded on my Instagram page.  I feel it’s a different success to what we sometimes see in corporate life:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

It might as well say: “This is to have lead”. I love this definition. It’s one of the few things I have on my wall in the way of quotes. By this definition we have all succeeded. If we spend our time trying to be or do these things, we might just make a greater impact than “telling” people what they need to do without caring for who they are.

Leadership is a trait. It is also an ability we can develop. Development takes practice and reflection. Practice and reflection. Like most other learning we need to embed the lessons – by practice and reflection. Some have this innate trait – and I also know other’s who have learned it, well.

This nurturing leadership creates an environment of Psychological Safety. In a psychologically safe team, people fly. They feel safe to be authentic, creative, flexible and innovative. They are trusted and comfortable making mistakes. They share something before it is finished and they ask for input and feedback. They are people who don’t care a lot about ego or traditional leadership ideals. They’re usually kind, compassionate and generous people and they are authentic. We are drawn to authenticity because it shines like a beacon.

How do we become authentic? We start by listening to our people in our teams, our friends, family. We truly care what impacts them and show up when we’re needed. Most importantly though, we listen to ourselves. We pay attention to all of our voices – and whilst doing so, be kind and curious in finding out what those voices mean. We all have our own voices. I talked recently about our Inner Critic. Those voices. They are the ones we pay attention to. Not just what they say, but how they makes us feel. Sit with that a bit……that’s when true leadership starts to really kick in.

This is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.

That old inner critic called love….

I’m very familiar with the Inner Critic. My dear friend Karin Peeters has talked about the inner critic ever since I’ve known her – over ten years. Until recently – like very recently….OK Thursday, I honestly thought I didn’t really have one anymore, so well hidden she was. In a brilliant coaching session from the wonderful Heather Parker yesterday, I realised that my internal wanderings and challenges of not being good enough, consistently pushing myself to earn more, be more, do more – just might be my inner critic! (mind blown…) Well I’ll be! It fascinates me, that old adage about the cobbler having no shoes…..but boy is it real! I talk to people all the time about being kind and compassionate to themselves. And whilst I do practice that myself, I seem to have not quite nailed this one.

In my meditation this morning I decided that my Inner Critic and I will be friends from now on. This idea was planted in my head by Nishe Patel, who even has an identity for hers (a bright green fluffy crocodile no less!). I haven’t yet fully imagined mine, but I really want her to be uber cool. A cross between Kate Bush, Michelle Obama and Tina Turner. It might be the flowing robes, mini skirts, power suits….??

I write this because I want my clients to know that we are all works in progress. I want to normalise what we think of as being wrong or confused or unclear or foggy or as I used to say FITH (F***ed in the Head). I’m not FITH. I’m my own version of kooky normal. By being kind and compassionate to myself, I can start to listen to, hear and understand what this very uber cool chick is telling me. We can be mates, she can challenge me, but she no longer has the  power to criticise me or put me down.

I often wonder why it can take us a long time sometimes to see what is obvious – or obvious to others. I knew I had an inner critic but I thought her only focus was body image! She was REAL busy there for a while. I obviously missed a few other messages she had in mind for me.

As Karin and Nishe say, the work we do on our inner critic can change the way we think of ourselves. If we sit with them and befriend them and make some sense of why they are being so vocal, then bringing it into our conscious mind can help resolve the angst. Being kind and compassionate with myself looks like telling myself it will be OK; that I do have this, that whatever I am doing or being in that moment is enough. When I have the resources within, action will take place. When it’s needed.

This is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.