For over a decade I worked in leadership positions in Local Government. This was a challenging, rewarding and often frustrating experience. Over that time I learnt a great deal about leadership, I made mistakes and tried to learn from them. What follows is a brief summary of some of the things I managed to learn through that time of leadership. I hope you find this of some use.
The Challenge of Leadership
Many people come to leadership by rising through the ranks and then being successful in gaining a leadership role. This is a very challenging situation. To go from being a colleague to a boss is a major transition and comes with difficulties. There are rivalries, team members can find it hard to follow direction from someone that they were on a level footing with up until recently. It can be a time of stumbling and uncertainty. At times you will hear this being jokingly referred to as “promoted above his capabilities.” And it can certainly feel like this. But keep battling away and you will move through this stage to a position of greater confidence in your abilities.
On the flip side, very few people seem to come to leadership as trained leaders. When they do they may find a difficulty in leading a team of specialists who may voice a concern the leader doesn’t really understand their roles. This is a challenge in itself. As a leader you need to ahve enough knowledge of the work a person does without really having the qualification to undertake their roles.
Provide a Vision
The leader has a distinct role in providing and communicating a vision of where they would like to see the team be in the future. Without such a vision the team will flounder. To misquote the Bible “without a vision the people are lost”. A true statement.
The trick is to have a vision and to bring the team along with you. My approach to this is to always work with the team to develop a shared vision and mission. This is a collaborative approach borrowing heavily from Appreciative Inquiry. It is much easier to move a team forward if the vision is developed and shared by all members of the team.
The alternative is a top down approach i.e. provide the vision yourself and work to convince each team member to come along with you. This is a much harder path to tread, but unfortunately it seems to be the path many organisations take.
Management is Not Leadership
In a leadership role you may be called a Manager, Supervisor, Coordinator or Team Leader. It is important to remember that Management and leadership are two different things. Management implies keeping tabs on things, keeping things under control, meeting targets and benchmarks, often without rocking the boat too much. Leadership is much different. it is about vision, direction, taking control of the situation, advocacy, building cohesion, being there for your team while still being able to maintain the corporate direction. management is passive and reactionary while leadership is a proactive action role.
Micro-Management is not Leadership
The enemy of leadership is Micro-Management. Taking tight and close control of the work and actions of individual team members is a poor strategy that only breeds contempt and is a good way to lose staff. Every staff member who leaves costs your organisation thousands in recruitment and training, let alone the loss of irreplaceable historical knowledge.
If you feel team member is not performing there are a number of other things you can do before resorting to the poor strategy of micro management. Training and mentoring are good options. And, at times, this might even mean you may have to adjust your own expectations and demands as they may be counter productive to developing a strong and close team who are kicking goals.
Support your Team
Supporting your team is essential. Your role as a leader is to lead them in a direction, towards a vision and support them through the process. While you are doing this you need to remember you are dealing with flesh and blood people who will require you to be there to support them, nurture them at times and even be there to catch them when they fall. This can mean a whole range of actions. As a leader you should attend their events, activities i.e. take an interest in what they are working on without taking the focus off them and their work. They are the professionals but they need to know you care about the work they are doing.
There will be times when they will need your support to help them through some of their personal matters. Often this is understanding they may need time away from work to deal with personal matters, non invasive support if they need external help or some consideration of their circumstances.
Lead by Stepping Back
Effective leadership often means stepping back. You will have a team of professional workers who know what they are doing. Your role is to provide the support for this to happen. Remove bureaucratic barriers where possible, give them space to do their work and provide training when needed. Regardless of how qualified someone is or how skilled we can all elarn something new. Ongoing training is essential.
Give your team space to do their jobs. Trust their professionalism and only intervene when it is necessary. They are the experts. You are the gatekeeper.
Not all leaders are the Same
Not all leaders are the same. Everyone will have their own style. Lead with your style. Trust yourself.
Likewise not all team members are the same. People are all different. They are at different stages of intellectual and psychological development. Work with each person, assess where they are at and provide the support they need to be great workers.
The two T’s – Trust and Transparency
The two most improtant words in leadership are trust and transparency. You have an important function in trusting your team to do their jobs. If you don’t trust them they won’t trust you. Trust is also a fragile beast. Once it has been broken it is so hard to rebuild. This requires a leader to be sensitive in dealings with team members and keep their matters confidential. Alongside of this is transparency. All your actions should be consistently transparent. It should be crystal clear what you are doing and where you are leading your team. My experience is that there is often very little that needs to be kept undercover. Aim for transparency. This is an ethical responsibility.
Professional ethics vs Organisational Direction
This is a tough one. There may be times when your professional ethics are at loggerheads with the direction of your organisation. This can particularly be the case if you are operating from a Community Development ethical base and working from the grassroots up. Many organisations operate from the top down. This may place you in an ethical conflict. If this happens you have the choice to remain and fight the system or leave. Sometimes leaving is the best option. Other times mainaining the rage is the way to go. It is your decision but always act ethically as a leader.
That just about covers all I wanted to say. There is so much that could be said. I’m interested in your comments on leadership. Let me know your view and help add to this discussion.