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Leadership Development 18 January 2021

Hitting reset on what it means to be a leader

Can you be a leader if you’re not a, b, or c? We explore how great leadership isn’t about changing who you are – it’s about owning your unique personal style…

We’ve learned a lot about what great leadership looks like over the past few months. We may have also learned what it doesn’t look like. However, one concern that often comes up in the Insights community is the question mark around whether we need to show up in a certain way at work to be successful in our leadership career. Often, people may think they have to be more ‘something’ than what feels comfortable [insert: assertive, analytical, authoritarian, etc] in order to be successful as a leader, because for a long time that was the only model of leadership we knew.

However, if we actually look around the world right now, what we’re actually seeing is lots of examples of great leadership that challenge those traditional models of leadership. We’re now seeing more of a focus on kindness, empathy and compassion, and it’s gaining traction. For example, Forbes provide a compelling case for why authoritarian styles of leadership are no longer sustainable, and won’t survive into 2021. LinkedIn called compassion the “leadership superpower” we all need. Another study certainly supports that superpower status, showing how compassionate leadership can result in increased engagement, improved wellbeing, and increased productivity.

Leadership and the language of colour

It’s interesting to look at this through the lens of Insights language of colour. If you’re familiar with Insights methodology, you’ll know that compassion is a characteristic which is most closely associated with those who lead with Earth Green energy. Right now, it feels like something that’s really essential. We all need understanding, empathy and kindness as we navigate through this next stretch of challenging circumstances, right? However, those aren’t the only things we need.

We actually need what each of the colour energies can bring. Each one brings something different, and each one has value. There’s the dynamism and creativity of those who lead with Sunshine Yellow energy to motivate and inspire us, the strong-will and drive of those who lead with Fiery Red energy who keep us on track, and the careful analysis and questioning nature of those who lead with Cool Blue energy, who put the brakes on us jumping head first into something without due care. In fact, at Insights we believe there are actually eight leadership dimensions, each underpinned by the language of colour, which impact how leaders show up in their day to day working life.

Ultimately, what we’re saying is that there’s no one way to be a successful leader. Everyone has a unique set of natural attributes, and when you know and understand what they are, you play to your strengths. You don’t have to lose who you are when you’re a leader – instead, you can lean into it.

Leading without being a leader

Now onto our second point, which is that it might also be the time when we reframe what we consider to be leadership at all. For a long time when we thought about leaders, what we’d actually be thinking about would be ‘the boss’. The person in the boardroom, the person heading up the team, and the person in the suit – whatever gender they happen to be. The person in charge.

The last few months has forced us to challenge these abstract or cliched ideas of what a leadership is. The pandemic has played its part in accelerating the stripping back of those layers of presenteeism we’d grown familiar with; the suits have disappeared, for one, and the visibility of hierarchical structures has been much diminished with so many people working from home. What we’ve learned is that these images we conjure up often simply play to stereotype, and that’s never helpful. However, what we now have to really consider is how leadership looks for all of us.

Aren’t many – if not all of us – leaning on our leadership skills in one way or another? We may not be leading a team of people, but we’re certainly having to draw on that pool of skills and qualities that leaders use day to day. We’re having to use our negotiation skills in our conversations with stakeholders, we’re having to level up our powers of persuasion to ensure we secure crucial internal buy-in, and we’re having to listen to – and act on – what our customers really want from us. Many of us are leading on a critical area in our organisation, so does that not make us leaders in some way?

It’s for this reason we do a disservice when we don’t develop leaders at all levels. It’s never just about the C-suite. It’s about increasing leadership capability across the whole organisation, to ensure that your people are primed to lead through whatever challenges the future presents.

Our leadership solution, The Self-Aware Leader, develops leaders at every level of your organisation. If you’d like to find out how we can support your leaders please get in touch today.

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