Last week I spent four incredible days with 44 other emerging leaders of the third-sector, on the American Express Leadership Academy delivered by Common Purpose in London. I’d never really considered myself as a leader in the past. I’d managed projects, managed staff, managed budgets, but that’s where I drew the line. Was I really a leader? And what makes a good leader?
I had this pre-conceived idea of what leadership was: somebody very extroverted, very vocal, barking orders in a military-esque manner. That’s what I thought leadership was, and that just isn’t me. I’m quiet – though not shy, I like to receive all of the information and then think on it before making decisions, I like to listen to what people had to say, listen and be empathetic. I’m also very self-aware – I know what my strengths and weaknesses are – and I’m very open and honest.
The course opened my eyes to a whole range of leadership styles. Different people have different approaches to all sorts of things in life and just like there are loads of ways of tying a knot there are loads of ways of being a good leader. Furthermore, it showed me that listening and empathy are key factors to being a good leader. I also learned that simply saying ‘yes’ to more things (though not everything) will lead to more opportunities, greater networking, and new areas of work.
Partnerships are also very interesting. Even the word itself means different things to different people, so when you are planning your next partnership be sure to figure out between yourselves exactly what partnership means to you. Sometimes partnership can feel like being subcontracted and partners don’t feel like they have an equal voice or are being undervalued. If you are planning a multi-partner piece of work, figure out who the biggest influencer is and target them first. Once they are on board it makes getting everyone else easier. Remember not to forget or undervalue the importance of your first partner though!
There is no one-perfect mould you can follow to become an effective leader. You need to figure out your own personal brand. Now I hate that term, but it’s widely used and probably here to stay. I think of brands and think of products, materials and items to be sold. I see a personal brand as an identity; a set of values and principles you believe in. That’s your brand. That’s who you are and what you stand for. Find that, and find an organisation that matches those values and you’ll never ‘work’ another day in your life.
Also, take pride in being different from your friends and colleagues. Different ways of thinking and different approaches lead to innovative work. Just because you have a different point of view doesn’t make it any less worthwhile being mentioned, and you should make your points known at meetings. That’s probably why you’re there in the first place, to provide a fresh perspective and to offer your thoughts and opinions, so don’t be afraid to articulate your thoughts! Being different isn’t just acceptable, it’s great! So be different, think differently, and realise the value of difference.
One of the best things about the course was speaking to all of the fantastic people there: the Common Purpose team, the guest speakers, and all of my fantastic peers on the course. I was a little bit intimidated at first, everyone else was doing some amazing work in the sector and there was me, feeling like an imposter. But most of the people in the room felt the same way! Imposter syndrome is very common and is definitely something I’ve experienced myself but a lot of people experience it and don’t vocalise their feelings. It turned out that a lot of us actually had similar issues across all of our work and problems we thought were unique to ourselves are actually happening to others as well! You truly aren’t alone, there are people who’ve been through it, and they’ve lived to tell the tale!
I can’t speak highly enough about the course. It never lectured you or professed to have all of the answers, instead it created the time, space, and encouragement for you to work things out by yourself, or in groups, and reach conclusions you probably knew all along but needed to hear it from other people to actually realise it.
I’ve definitely taken so much away from my time on the Leadership Academy, and I’ve already been implementing what I’ve learned not just in my professional practice but in my social life too. I can’t wait to see what the emerging leaders of tomorrow begin to achieve now.