Updated: Sep 3, 2020
I am not a high powered, highly paid executive. I am not a former Olympic medallist. I don't have an MBE, an OBE or a CBE. I don't have a public position of authority. I can't change national policy or solve Brexit. I haven't been a chief executive, Chaired a Board or founded a global company. I have not made my first million. I haven't invented anything of significance. I get rejected for more contracts than I am awarded. I have failed more times than I have succeeded. I have not achieved my dreams...yet.
In the eyes of some, of many, I am not a leader. Not even close. I am not perceived to have influence, authority or status. Despite having been in many positions that required leadership of varying levels, under the traditional definition of 'leadership' whereby people with power, influence and authority determine direction and strategy, I don't count. I am not a leader.
However. Let's look at leadership in a different way. What if leadership is not about power or influence or authority. What if it is not about visible achievements, the letters after your name or your perceived position in society? What if it is not about your 'on paper' experience as a CEO, Chair or senior executive? What if leadership is more about living your values, leading authentically and acting with integrity, even when times are tough? What if it is about believing in something so strongly and passionately, that everything you do is aligned with your purpose? What if it is about your actions always matching your words? This is more like the leadership I believe in.
Debra Meyerson has coined the term 'tempered radicals' in relation to change agents and leaders of change, and it is an approach that I like very much. Meyerson describes tempered radicals as 'people who want to succeed in their organisations yet want to live by their values or identities, even if they are somehow at odds with the dominant culture of their organisations'. She goes on to identify that tempered radicals are 'everyday leaders who are quiet catalysts who push back against the prevailing norms, create learning and lay the ground work for slow but ongoing organisational and social change'. Tempered radicals do not necessarily have power or authority in the traditional sense, but because they consistently behave in line with their beliefs and 'speak their truth', they are gradually able to stimulate change and create new thinking.
This really reflects how I feel about leadership, so...
LEADERSHIP...for me it means that:
“I believe that every leadership journey is unique and that individual leadership philosophies matter. I also believe that everyone has the potential to lead, whatever their perceived position, and we all have the ability to influence others just by what we do and how we act on a daily basis. I see that leadership values and beliefs are shaped by their own experiences and that understanding how your experiences shape your leadership style is critical to future success. I know that positive and inclusive cultures and environments nurture success and that how we inspire others is important.
Great leaders create a vision and align people to that vision by inspiring them to follow and chase with purpose, passion and positive intent. Great leaders engage and encourage motivated followers, and then support them in pursuing their own dreams. Great leaders know what they do and why they do it and never stop being curious about why things work and how they could be better.”
My commitment to activating my leadership principles is that I will:
Lead with care, compassion and an appreciation for the values of others
Take time to understand my leadership journey and the experiences that have shaped my approach and behaviours
Help others to recognise what leadership means to them
Support individuals to reflect on, and develop, their own leadership journeys
Ensure that the environments within which I work are inclusive, welcoming and appropriate for those with whom I work
Be authentic and act with integrity and always in line with my values and beliefs
Have the courage to challenge myself and others if things don’t feel right
For me, this is leadership. My PhD research has allowed me to explore this complex area in great depth and going forward my plan is to translate these insights into practical and tangible development programmes for leaders and leadership...whoever you are and whatever your position. Remember, just by being you, having a strong sense of identity and consistency of behaviour, you can create change.
Meyerson, D.E. (2001). Tempered Radicals: How People Use Difference To Inspire Change at Work. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press