As leader, I see my role is to create an environment in which the people I lead can thrive and perform to their very best; and then to make sure they are left alone to get on with doing the things they excel at. Let’s break these two parts down a bit more.
Environment, to me, is much more than the physical context in which the team operates: it is the culture, the emotional and value framework within which the team operates. There are a number of responsibilities that I have to establish that, which include:
- Establishing the context – no team exists within a vacuum and it is essential to understand the culture, expectations and constraints that the team will operate under.
- Setting the vision – this must be concise, clear and shared by the team. Whilst I initiate and direct the discussion, this is a co-creation activity
- Agreeing the values, rules of engagement – As with vision, these are co-created by the team and agreed at the beginning
- Communication – this is absolutely essential and everyone has a responsibility to communicate, which means listening as well as talking. I take the lead on the external communication and on making sure that the degree and quality of communication within the team is at the right level.
- Appreciation and acknowledgement – it’s really important that team members appreciate each other and respect their differences, and that praise and reward are shared fairly and openly. Here, the team co-create the structure and I run the processes.
- Creating trust – the whole team is responsible for this, I make sure it is front-of-mind and behaviours and practices of the team are consistent with this.
- Coaching and support – this is part of the ethos the team and something they actively do for each other. I coach each individual member on a regular basis, helping them develop and grow as individuals and as team members.
I believe strongly in co-leadership, that is, that the most suitable person should be leading at all times. This will not always, or perhaps often, be me, and this extends to my own leadership responsibilities. Others with the appropriate skill, experience, temperament, or even enthusiasm for each task or phase of the team’s activity should step forward. My role is to ensure that there IS appropriate leadership and that responsibilities are being carried out, stepping in myself if there is no-one more suitable or if the situation is in flux and uncertain.
There are, nonetheless, some roles that I feel I must take upon myself alone. These are related to the second part, making sure the team members are left along to get on with doing their stuff.
- I am responsible for the welfare or my team members.
- I am answerable for the conduct of my team members.
- I am accountable for the performance of my team.
- I am the champion and defender of my team.
- I am the ‘spare man’, I will step in and fill in any gaps that occur within the team.
This means that I play many roles, and certainly all the styles of leadership. I can be autocratic, charismatic, supportive, encouraging, inspiring, visionary, uncompromising, caring, process-driven and emotional. In short, whatever is required to help the team maximise performance in the moment.
I have, in the past, called this ‘Leading from Behind’ but more recently I have reconsidered and I believe it is more accurate to call it ‘Leading from the Middle’. I am part of the team at all times, providing the cohesion and connectivity and I am closely connected to whoever is ‘leading’ at any particular time.
Leadership is demanding, exhausting, exasperating and exhilarating. It is also a very great honour and privilege and the most satisfying thing I do.
Picture by Benoît Derrier [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia