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Leadership Reinvented?

Written by Annette Cairns on .
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Enabling managers to be the leaders they want to be. It’s how I summarise all the different aspects of what I do day to day with individuals and teams.

It sounds simple enough – being who you want to be. But how many times have you found yourself thinking ‘I probably can’t be myself in the office’ or that you need to ‘be a certain way’ with your colleagues? Whilst we all have behaviours that are ever so slightly different depending on the company and situation we’re in – either with closest friends, family, meeting new people or in the workplace – we all want to just be our authentic selves.

It's International Leadership Week, and the theme for 2021 is ‘leadership re-invented’. It started me thinking about whether leadership itself has been reinvented, or if the pandemic and the working world changing so much has reinvented the entire way we approach work altogether?

I’ve long been an advocate of Authentic Leadership and take the meaning of that as ‘being one’s genuine self’ in a leadership role, rather than taking on the persona of a managerial stereotype. So, what does this look like in practice, and how can people new to leadership roles develop the confidence to be themselves and work, and grown into an authentic leader?

Self Awareness

Understanding our own behaviour, and identifying our strengths and weaknesses is key to functioning well as part of a team, not least as we move into leadership roles. It’s critical to practice self-observation, and also to ask for feedback from those around you to understand yourself, in order to develop the areas that need to improve. For instance, difficult conversations may be an area you shy away from, but once you understand that you can use tools to overcome this which will strengthen your approach and support you within your team.

Transparency and honesty

Being open and honest was sometimes seen as weakness in the corporate world, but thankfully we’ve moved a long way from that! For many, one of the positive outcomes from the lockdown was breaking down the barrier between the formal office personas, and letting people show some of our home lives (including those early zoom calls with pets and family to contend with!). Leaders were forced to show their team that they too had challenges, were coming to grips with unprecedented situations, and were open enough to say they didn’t have the answers to everything.

Being transparent in this way has helped to develop relationships, and trust across the team, and in turn allows open conversations about future challenges to be handled with empathy and honesty.

Decision making

A leader needs to make decisions, and sometimes they may be in the face of opposition or challenged from the outset. There were certainly some difficult choices to be made as we entered the lockdown early in 2020. A great leader will be able to communicate well with their team, based on strong communication skills, and the trust built over time. They will rationally be able to look at alternative ideas and opinions, and balance this with relevant information before taking a decision.

If you can be yourself in the workplace, with the confidence in your own abilities, you can stick to your values and beliefs, whilst taking on the opinions of others in a balanced way, and this is the route to strong decision making.

Is it all about leadership?

It’s not just our leadership teams who have had to adapt during the pandemic, and whilst many good things have come from the changes, I also sense that many employees have gone through a process of reflection, understanding their motivations and drivers for their careers too. Perhaps this is leading to the increase in job moves, career changes and maybe the underlying cause for ‘The great resignation’ as they realise they can be genuinely themselves.

As Brené Brown says when talking about people being vulnerable and daring in leadership:

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

If we can all be more ourselves within our workplace, with the confidence that authenticity brings, then I see organisations with a nurturing environment, with great communication and teamwork, which will help everyone function better for business results.

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