Leadership is an opportunity to provide guidance, direction, encouragement, examples of desired behaviour in others, and sometimes to motivate. How a leader chooses to do all these things, (and there are others) is really more about defining the style of that leader.
You will find in your lifetime that there are opportunities to take on leadership roles, and for varying lengths of time, for little, none or significant compensation, and there are equally good times to stand down and let others assume leadership positions for the greater good of all concerned. The knack of the best is knowing when is the right time to lead.
Sometimes it’s a situation where you have the knowledge of a subject matter, experience in spades, and others are encouraging you to step up and lead a group. That kind of decision is much easier because many are behind you, or perhaps everyone is putting your name forth with no opposition whatsoever. Be cautious however, because if everyone thinks you’re the answer and things turn out less than great with your leadership, how soon they may forget that they egged you on.
It certainly is an advantage if you have a clear sense of direction and have some kind of vision for what it is you wish to accomplish. It may be a vision you would do well to share so you get buy-in and commitment from others towards, or you may decide your personal vision is something that will take time to realize, and best you go slowly and not rock the boat too much all at once.
Have you ever experienced a change in leadership where someone takes the helm and starts acting like they’ve got all the answers and everyone else can just keep their ideas to themselves? That kind of leadership can be very divisive and yet sometimes that’s what we see in reality. Someone is chosen to turn a company around, and they make sweeping changes in direction, contract their workers, close unprofitable departments, overhaul their service delivery and the company is in flux and tensions and stress soar, stakeholders get nervous, the market has to re-think the value of the services or products and the company is branded anew.
Other times leaders assume the helm and there is very little noticeable change. These leaders decide that it would be prudent to stay the course, learn from the inside what works and why, and value the opinions and practices of those around them to provide them with the information they need to establish future direction. Transitions are smooth, workers are reassured and changes may come, but they are brought about slowly and after much consultation.
Of course not every leader is the person with the biggest office on the top floor. In outstanding organizations, leaders are found at every level. Individuals are encouraged to excel, to grow, given opportunities to lead and nurtured by mentors who have been there before. Some of the best leaders will sometimes actually be hard to spot if you walked in 10 minutes into a meeting, because their style of leadership is more to listen and encourage others to chair meetings, and lead discussions. These leaders are carrying out some succession planning years in advance of critical needs. Giving subordinates the chance to gain valuable experience leading projects big or small, and then providing helpful advice and recommendations for what the person may lack or wish to improve upon to be prepared for future opportunities perhaps 5 or more years down the road. These leaders are forward thinkers.
Recently a group I am part of underwent a change in leadership. The Chairperson stepped down after a two-year term and two of us put our names forward as potential replacements. Being a fairly new group, (if 2 years can be considered new in the broader sense), the change in Chair had not previously happened and the procedure was not something the group had pondered until it was upon us. In my own situation, while I want the position in order to provide some enthusiastic guidance and direction, I actually withdrew my name as a candidate in order that the small group not be divided, and the vote become a popularity contest between us two. There are other ways to lead than by being designated a Chairperson.
And that’s the thrust today. Leadership opportunities are all around us and not only when we sit at the head of a table. People lead all the time, usually in their areas of expertise. So as an Employment Counsellor, I’m seen as a leader when it comes to facilitating dynamic workshops and thought-provoking creative solutions to problems. However, on my team, each other member leads by example in their own way and we as a group see an ebb and flow of people stepping up with ideas, sitting back and supporting others only to rise again with new initiatives.
And I humbly suggest that that’s the best kind of leadership; where in a group setting, each member serves the group by committing to full participation, leading by example whether it’s contributing, speaking, volunteering comments and suggestions, sharing experiences and actively having a part in the success of the overall group goals. It sure beats someone with a little plaque reminding everyone else they are the big cheese while the subordinates meekly sit around listening to them drone on and on only to hear themselves speak.