As I think about my leadership and what it means to me, I am clear that my definition of leadership – the harnessing of the intelligence and creativity with whom I work – offers many a paradox to what I learned. My thoughts on leadership seemed contradictory or opposed to the approaches I read about, heard and saw both as a student and as a team member. And still I believed that what I stumbled upon was true.
I have been taught that leaders lead from the front. All the heroic generals of historical wars are portrayed as fighting on the front lines of the battle. Leaders always save the day – it was Moses who single handedly led his people through the Red Sea to freedom from the Egyptians, And it was the leaders who always have the vision. Steve Jobs is attributed as the creator of Apple and the world has not been the same since.
In many ways my definition stood at odds with these long held and well touted iconic presentations of leadership.
When I think of a harness I envisage a team being led from behind. The leader is not at the front, she is at the back of the team, guiding and influencing direction.
When there is a problem or work issue, I invite team members into the discussion so that we can use our collective creativity to solve problems. The leader is not the only one whom can solve problems, once team members believe that their ideas are welcome they will happily contribute ideas.
I depend on the collective intelligence of the team to co-create the vision of how they want to work and to state the goals that they are willing to put their energies towards achieving. When team members are involved in vision creation and goal development, they have already considered how this will impact on what they want to personally achieve. As a result, they readily perform tasks related to these.
These ideas were contradictory to what I knew and how I led in previous leadership positions. To enact them I had to reject all that I learned and to change quite a few things about myself and my self- beliefs.
I believe that leadership is important and I know the reason why I lead. As a leader my sole role is to create an environment that allows team members to bring their creativity and intelligence and when these are evident, I need to harness these two elements as we move towards the pursuit of our goals.
What paradoxes do you face with your leadership?
Maxine Attong coaches leaders to be more effective and to lead winning teams. She is the author of Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. Maxine is also an Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitator and a Certified Accountant.