It’s the leader that sets the tone

Amy Gentles-McKieLeadership is a funny old thing and a topic I’m passionate about exploring in my role as a Learning and Development Advisor. It’s often painted as a highly elusive status only the pure of heart achieve. We set out on a journey to avenge the down-trodden, lead with integrity and be visionaries of our time. Sometimes it sounds like a quest for the Holy Grail. In reality, we are already leaders, because leadership roles are all around us, not just in a work environment.

I recently read in an online article that “many people wonder if leadership can really be taught. Academics and those offering leadership training or literature of some sort are convinced that it can. However, many successful leaders have never had any formal training. For them leadership is a state of mind, and it is their personalities and traits that make them successful leaders.”

If you type ‘leadership’ into your preferred search engine, thousands of links appear on your screen brandishing the ‘ten top qualities of a great leader’, ‘50 rules for being a great leader’, ‘the skills you need to be a great leader’. We read them, watch the videos and buy the books, because we’re curious. We genuinely want to know how we can do things differently so our teams and peers feel they are being suitably supported and led in the right way.

So yes, of course you can learn about effective leadership skills and practices but being able to implement them yourself may require an altogether different set of skills and attitudes. One of the most important aspects of leadership is that not every leader is the same.

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist, taught that there are two parts of our personality. The Persona and The Shadow. Our persona is the part of ourselves that we make public, the face we wear in society. Our persona’s partner is one which is less visible, one that exists outside the light of day, often outside our consciousness and this is the shadow. Our shadow.

With this in mind, how often do we consider our shadows as a leader?

The shadow phenomenon exists for anyone who is a leader of any group, including a parent in a family and that’s because people tend to take on the characteristics of those who have some power or influence over them. How many times have you caught yourself saying or doing something and thinking, ‘that’s just what my mother or father would say/do?’. As James Baldwin says “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” 

We explore this concept in many of our Leadership courses here at Mitie Client Services. We whole heartedly believe that being a leader isn’t necessarily about what you’re doing but more about who you’re being. Looking carefully at the HOW, the impact we can all have on our teams, holding ourselves accountable, and owning our WHY. If, as titled leaders of teams, we are not living the values that we are communicating then we are completely missing the point.

In another article I once read: The role of the leader, at work and at home, requires modelling the desired behaviour and letting others see the desired values in action. To become effective leaders, we must become aware of our shadows and then learn to have our actions match our message. Or, as Warren Bennis puts it “A leader doesn’t just get the message across; he is the message.”

In their book ‘Winning Teams–Winning Cultures’, Senn Delaney Chairman Dr. Larry Senn and President and CEO Jim Hart describe the concept of the ‘Shadow of the Leader’. In it they examine the cultural implications of the Leaders Shadow and state that one of the most common complaints throughout organisations is that the senior teams do not ‘walk the talk’, and that whenever a company begins to make statements about desired behaviours and people do not see those behaviours being modelled at the top, there is a lack of integrity and trust.

So it leaves me to ask, as a leader are you sure that you’re casting the shadow you want, knowing that others are likely to model your behaviour over your words? Are you indeed ‘walking the talk’?

Amy Gentles-McKie is a Learning and Development Advisor for Mitie Client Services

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