Are those in charge at their best when they stay in the shade or hog the spotlight? James Hempsall OBE shares his thoughts…
It’s easy to believe that leaders must be attention-loving creatures these days. Just look at the world’s prime ministers and presidents; they grace our TV screens and bombard us with a constant stream of social media posts sharing minute-by-minute commentaries. Their success is measured by the number of social media followers they attract, and their relevance by the number of likes their postings achieve.
All types of media are essential elements of the modern business’s marketing tool-kit, as are opportunities to represent a business in person at events, meetings and conferences. A figurehead is a powerful thing, but it’s one of the many organisational functions that can be shared. Looking back at some of my old bosses, I can see how the limelight was their main concern, over and above the health and wellbeing of the organisation, and the individuals in it. And it was something they didn’t offer to share, leaving others in the shade.
By being exposed to such behaviours, we are at risk of repeating them and falling into poor leadership traps. By making positive choices and taking progressive action, we can achieve great leadership within the modern workplace.
I was struck recently by the concept of humble leadership, which seems at odds with this personality-fuelled world. Humble leadership reminds us we can lead in a different space, one that occupies the wings rather than centre stage. The modest, unassuming boss inhabits a place of humility, modesty and inward and outward focus. This can be viewed by some as weak leadership, but they need to know that external communications is a key element of the leader; it is one slice of their cake, not the whole gateau – and it’s a confection that can be shared across teams.
Humble bosses pay good attention to supporting their colleagues, they are quietly confident in the knowledge they can lead effectively, and support teamwork by inspiring their colleagues and coaching them through challenges and areas of development. This supports not only their own growth and development, but that of everyone around them. A humble style supports leaders to impart their knowledge and skills, and open up the motivation, willingness, and interest of the team to listen carefully to what is being shared. One of the most important jobs of a leader is to play a part in growing the next generation of leaders, and making way when the time is right.
All of this reminds me of one of my favourite principles in leadership and management: that leaders have to do a lot of talking on their journeys to the top, and when they get there, they need to stop talking and start listening. This is because great leaders are all aware of their own learning needs and are enthusiastic self-improvers; that is definitely something worth sharing, as you support team members to shine themselves.