When I think of what I look for in a leader at work… it’s exactly the same qualities. I look for a leader who inspires me and has a vision. One that motivates me to succeed and gives me the tools to do so. One that supports me, gives me the ability to explore and try, and one that is there to help when I need it. Importantly, one I can look up to.
Each year leaders from around Beca come together for an annual Leadership Conference. It’s one of two, global events (the second being a Technical Conference later in the year) that really makes you feel passionate about the company you work for. We briefly reflect on our journey over the last year. We ‘ignite our thinking’ with where we’re going to go and how we’re going to get there. And we may also celebrate and build on our relationships over some fine wine and food.
This year, I felt sad to miss the Leadership Conference. Despite missing it for a good reason (I’m still on maternity leave – well, kind-of), I miss being inspired by our leaders. The feeling of leaving exhilarated and excited by our future.
At this point I started to think about leadership. What is a leader? What makes a good leader and why do we look to them so much?
Sure, you can Google ‘leader’ and get a definition of “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.” Or look in Wikipedia, which says “Leadership is both a research area and a practical skill, regarding the ability of an individual or organisation to "lead" or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organisations.” But is there more to it?
When I look at my kid who’s almost ten months, I’m his leader. I’m guiding him. Helping him to find his feet, quite literally sometimes. Holding his hand when he needs it and letting go when he doesn’t. Teaching him right from wrong. Showing him by example.
Then, when I think of what I look for in a leader at work… it’s exactly the same qualities. I look for a leader who inspires me and has a vision. One that motivates me to succeed and gives me the tools to do so. One that supports me, gives me the ability to explore and try, and one that is there to help when I need it. Importantly, one I can look up to.
However, like parenting styles and children, every leader is different and what we as individuals expect from a leader is also unique. Some will crave having them work alongside you every step of the way. Some will prefer independence.
Therefore, is there a right or wrong leader? Obviously you don’t want a leader who wants you to fail, but is it more a case of finding the right leader for the right job or finding a style that works for you?
I also can’t help but wonder if our unique perspective of a ‘good’ leader stems from our own childhood and how we were brought up. If we were raised with a ‘hands-off’ approach, does that mean we prefer that type of leader? My parents we always encouraging me and giving me the opportunity to explore first. Is that why I prefer the leaders I do today?
One website suggests that our ideal leader stems from our hunter-gatherer days. That it is ingrained in us to look for a leader who will enable us to defend our territory and resources; ultimately, out-performing our competitors. If you think in the business sense, isn’t that our goal?
Others suggest we look for attributes – the ability to deal with adversity, competition and crisis. A person who is not afraid to fail because failure breeds humility and confidence, which in return builds leaders. Someone who has ‘fire in their belly’… which probably would have helped in the hunger-gatherer days!
My gut feeling is that every leader is unique and our needs as individuals are unique. So we tend to gravitate towards leaders who align with our own needs, and companies whose leaders and operations align.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with the right leaders for me over my career, and to work for a company that values leadership. I’m also grateful that the leaders who attend the conference are passionate about sharing their learnings, so I too can feel excited about the year ahead.
As I finish this, I’m watching the ten-month-old. I can see the ‘fire in his belly’ as he’s desperately trying to take his first steps. He’s trying but he’s failing… and each time he fails he’s building his confidence. And, so I wonder: are we all born great leaders who are just destined to lead in different aspects of our lives?
You may have a perspective on this which I’d be delighted to hear. What do you look for in a leader?