Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been percolating on what good leadership looks like, at least to me, and how I can make sure I am acting like the good leader I would want to see.
There’s been lots of good thought pieces and conversations happening about good leadership over the last year or so. Kit Collingwood’s blog on Empathetic Leadership in the civil service being one, and there was a #OneTeamGov workshop a few months ago where we discussed what makes a good leader, so I know I’m not alone in considering the subject.
For me there are a number of traits I look for when I consider whether someone is a good leader, and on a personal level, could I work for them?
Empathy is the fist, given the field I work in, empathy is key. We have to try and understand the experiences of the users of our services, be able to recognise our privilege and still empathise with people who’s experiences are different than our own.
Active Listening is the second, I’ve encountered a number of leaders over the years who do a good job of acting like they are listening, but as soon as they have left the room that conversation is forgotten. Their opinions seem to change with the wind depending on who they have talked to last. The ability as a leader to actively listen, to try and understand what is being said and why, is fundamental in being a good leader.
Approachable, for me Leaders have to be approachable, I have to be able to discuss things with them, come to them with concerns and ideas.
Authentic, I find it much easier to respect people when I can trust that they mean what they say, that they are being themselves.
Personable. A lot of things discussing leadership talk about charisma, charismatic leaders etc. The cult of personality. I’d rather work for a decent human that I can relate to or get along with rather than a charismatic figure.
Encouraging. They empower those around them. They encourage them to try things. The support them to develop and grow. They trust their people. They make them feel valued.
And on a personal level, what does good leadership mean for me?
It means I can be myself.
It means I feel empowered and trusted
It means I feel listened to and heard
It means I’m more able to just get on and deliver, rather than cover my back in paper trails.
It means I’m more likely to actively enjoy my job and deliver good things.
It means I understand my value, and feel appreciated, I understand my purpose and what I can deliver.
It means I feel safe to innovate and take risks
So how do I try to model those behaviours?
I don’t ask for more from anyone than I’m willing to give, I try to set a good example, whether that’s working the right hours, recognising when people have gone above and beyond and celebrating not only success but effort.
I encourage those around me to get on and do things without waiting for my sign off, as long as they have the data or evidence to back up their decisions I make sure they know I will back them. We are all on a journey to discover and grow; it’s important to take risks sometimes when there are things we can learn.
I try to be approachable and human. I talk about my mental health. My family. I may not share with my work colleagues everything, but nor do I put up a wall or plaster on false face. I talk to people. I value the people around me and try to recognise that everyone can have bad days as well as good ones. Equally I recognise that sometimes my role as a leader is to shoulder more of that burden, to protect my teams; but rarely is that any one persons alone; knowing who you can call on for support is an essential part of being human.
I try to be transparent and honest. I admit when I know things I’m not yet able to share. I admit when things are hard. I appreciate that we all have to sometimes do things we don’t want to, that is life, and sometimes we struggle with things, we are all human.
I try to be adaptable. I accept that not everyone is the same and try to understand the needs of those around me, my staff and my teams.
I am always trying to learn from my experiences and my mistakes and perhaps most importantly I admit when I’ve got things wrong and apologise. I am always learning and growing as a leader and a person.