This year I participated in a leadership program that involved a lot of self reflection. I highly recommend an experience like this to anyone. Through the Leading Australian Resilient Communities (LARC) program through Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, I was able to take the time to test some of the things I thought I knew about myself, uncover some things I didn't and define some strategies for continual improvement.
I have discovered my leadership style - I Lead from Behind. Some call this Servant Leader but I really don't like that term. It gives this leadership style a negative connotation from the outset. I feel this style is far from being about serving others. I get so much reward from leading a successful team or project and I don't need the kudos. I just want to see success for the project and for the individuals participating in it.
In his autobiography, the great Nelson Mandela equated a great leader with a shepherd: “He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind.”
I have never enjoyed being the person out the front - the one seeking the kudos or public exposure. This was heavily reinforced when I participated in LARC and resisted being nominated as a representative of the larger group over others.
This is not about lacking confidence in my own ability nor is it about not wanting to put in the effort. I can certainly step up to the front when it is needed. However, leading from behind allows you to see who excels at what in a group and then putting forward the right person for the job - or even the person who could use the experience more than others. I am not an animated or theatrical public speaker and can't put the message across as well as others. It took a lot of convincing from the program manager to keep my name in the hat for the representative roles. I must say I was relieved when I didn't get the final vote!
Some of the traits of those leading from behind include:
putting the wellbeing of others first;
prioritising the community or organisation or team over their own needs;
encouraging the personal or professional development of others for their benefit and for that of the organisation or project;
encouraging everyone to contribute based on their strengths and passion points; and
taking a back seat and allowing others to shine.
Why do I enjoy this style?
It allows individual members of a team to contribute based on their strengths and feel valued.
It is inclusive and encourages all team members, not just the vocal ones, to contribute, often leading to more innovative outcomes.
I love seeing people grow in confidence and achieve their personal and career goals. Providing the foundations for that to happen is so rewarding.
But what are the things to look out for with this leadership style?
Having too much empathy in "reading the room" can be detrimental to your own wellbeing.
Being less decisive as the leader and more democratic in decision-making can be confusing for some members of the team. Some people thrive with more direction and decisiveness.
It can take more time to get to a direction in a project when being this inclusive. This time factor needs to be allowed for.
I certainly have examples where my leadership style has failed team members or myself based on the above. And this is where we can all learn - in self-reflection.
This leadership style is not for everyone. There are different leadership styles for a reason and there are many effective ways of leading. This one is just an example of mine to encourage you to reflect on yours.
Why does understanding your leadership style matter? No leadership style is the perfect combination. There are pitfalls within any style. Understanding your leadership style allows you to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and have the self-awareness to build strategies to counteract those gaps you may have.
It is important for the arts sector to have strong leadership and many leadership styles so that we can keep stretching and innovating our organisations and project teams.
Give me the role of "Shepard" any day!