Reflection – 30 days of leadership

My leadership ‘style’ is one thing that I have spent many hours thinking about and focusing on over the last 12 years. We spent the majority of our 3 months of RAAF Officer training on leadership. That was when I started to understand some of my “failings” in leadership, and also some of my strengths. Throughout the following 12 years, and seven different  positions, I’ve managed to improve some aspects and accept that there are just some things I will never be able to do very well.

What I’ve learned is that I am a very participative leader, and an even more participative manager. I guess that is one of the distinctions for me, I’m not a natural manager, I don’t feel comfortable telling people what to do, I prefer to explain what needs to be done and come to an agreement about everyone’s role and then let them get on with the job. The way that I’ve come to view this is that I tend to lead more than I tend to manage the teams that I am responsible for. I hate micro-managing, almost as much as I hate being mirco-managed. If people need help in understanding how to do their tasks I will happily take the time to explain and teach, but on the whole I expect that people have been employed in their positions because they are capable of doing their jobs – unfortunately I do get proven wrong sometimes.

My tribal leadership experience
When I first watched David Logan’s talk in late 2009 I thought about how I lead and whether I improve my tribe’s experience of working, or if I make it worse. I think that, like most people, I probably do both things at different times. I thought about the team I managed at the time and where they sat on the scale. There was a schism in my team that placed them at three different levels, depending on how you viewed them (sub-groups). I realised that I didn’t really know how to make that any better, how to pull them together as a team. I mulled it over and then, like most people, I got so busy with day to day activities that I forgot about how to make them a team.

When I took on my role in Housing Tasmania in 2010 I revisited David’s talk, among other TED talks, thinking that this was a fresh start with a new team and I could try some different techniques. I was pretty happy with how I led that team, and feel that I did improve their unity. But I must say that I was really happy when I took on my current role, since I have no staff. That was when I realised the problem, it is very difficult to lead when you are so busy managing and doing.

When I no longer had to manage so much day to day activity, it freed my brain up to really consider the issues and how we might overcome some of them. That was when I bought David and Steve’s book, I needed to understand how to move people between the five levels, not least because the situation at work has become very strained with all of the downsizing and cost savings.

Adapting my language
When I read through the future based language part of the book I didn’t fully get it, it just wasn’t sinking in. After trying to apply it in this activity I now understand it a lot better. The problem with applying the Three Laws of Performance for me is that David and Steve talk about it at an organisation-wide level, and I don’t have the power to play with it at that level. Instead I was taking the basic principles and trying to apply them to the small tribes that I have become part of. I don’t think that I improved the main issue I really wanted to address, but I know that I gave it a go and had a few conversations that will hopefully fester away in people’s minds.

In relation to my project tribe, I tried very hard to start them at ‘We are great’. We spoke a lot about the importance of this project and having a diverse team that allows us all to learn from each other. I have tried to ensure that every tribe member has had a chance to have a say, and they are listened to and acknowledged for their contribution. I know that I have a tendency to get very task focused, so this time around I’m trying to work on the non-task aspects a lot more. I think this is going well, and I really want to keep this focus for the remainder of the project. I’ll keep reflecting on this as we go through and see if I can really get the tribe to ‘We are great’ during the next four months.

And now onto practical wisdom
As I mentioned in the launch, I absolutely love this talk from Barry Schwartz, and given the way I explained my leadership style above that shouldn’t be a surprise. It introduced me to the concept of moral will and moral skill, something that I do believe is lacking in our modern world. I have worked in Government for almost 12 years now, in two States and at the Federal level, and I can tell you that it is sorely lacking in these bureaucracies – as I’m sure any public servants out there will attest.

Government is a large machine that uses taxpayers money and provides vital services to the public. There are a large amount of rules and regulations that we need to comply with, and I don’t think any of us would argue that these should not exist. The thing is that there are also a lot of processes that make no sense, that just seem to be there for the edification of an individual or team, that get in the way of allowing us to be flexible and make our own judgements. I think that this is why Barry’s talk really resonated with me.

I did not make much leeway with this in the 30 days, as I suspected would be the case. But there have been some small wins along the way. These mainly related to making people reconsider putting another layer of bureaucracy into processes, trying to be a rational voice about trusting our staff (and for the project, our funded organisations) to do the right thing as the default.

This is also something that I want to keep in the back of my mind to see if I can come across any way that I might be able to really get some traction with the concept. There is one thing that I have the potential to advocate for within the organisation that falls into this category, and that is the current whispers that IT might be removing the wiki that we have. The theory is that the new intranet will render it obsolete.Nothing could be further from the truth given that its purpose is so radically different than disseminating the approved and complete information on the intranet.

The real problem people have is the lack of control, everyone can edit it and some people think that is not appropriate since they might put up inaccurate or offensive material. This is a ridiculous notion for so many reasons that I need to articulate to the people involved in the decision. The existence and use of a wiki is a very simple, but clear example of moral will and moral skill at play for me, and I don’t want to lose the functionality or the underlying value that it brings.

Fairly happy overall
This reflection was always going to be a little long and rambling, you will have to excuse me for that. The thing is that leadership is such an important thing in organisations, and I really wanted to see if these talks could help me take some more leadership in my part of the organisation. I have learned a few things, I have also been aware of the situations where I haven’t shown very good leadership, there were a couple. On the whole though, I think this was a very worthwhile activity and I will be keeping it in mind as I continue my project and continue to try to find a way to improve some of the current cultural problems we are experiencing. Even if I only make the working experience better for a couple of people around me I will feel like I’ve achieved something.

One last thing, I promise
One last note about leadership, introversion and Susan Cain (please feel free to read my post on her TED talk and book if you aren’t aware of who she is). Through Susan’s book I have come to understand that a lot of my “failings” as a leader are due to my introversion. Things that I have been told I have to change and improve upon are simply the natural way that I work as a leader. We can’t all be the strong and vocal types, and I think that Susan clearly explains what we would lose as a society if all leaders were like that.

What Susan’s book has given me through this process is a keener understanding of the other introverts in the room, and how I need to work with them in slightly different ways to get their valuable contributions. It has also given me the courage to lead by example, to be open and honest about being an introvert and all of the insecurities that go with that. This has led to a number of conversations with people that I hope have been as valuable for them as they were for me.

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