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.