I’ve been reading recently about the government banning people speaking to the Civil Service if their views are anti or hostile to government policy. For me this absolutely goes down to an issue of leadership.
As a leader one of the key things you need to do is to ensure that you have access to all the available data, including the views and opinions of those who might disagree with you. Otherwise, you have no way of knowing if the decisions you are making are the right ones or are likely to achieve what you want. But that is hard to do. Leaders are human beings after all, and human beings don’t typically like to be told they’re wrong, or contradicted, or criticised.
But the thing about being a leader is that you simply have to rise above your own ego. Being resistant to criticism is normal – but as a leader you need to park those feelings of defensiveness in the box marked ‘Things That Get In The Way of Me Being Effective’ and open your ears to what is being said. That doesn’t mean you have to change course or necessarily take those views on board. But you do have to listen.
This is particularly the case in our sector where we are bombarded with feedback and criticism about how we do our work. Often that criticism is ill-informed, sometimes malicious (particularly if what we do is in an area that comes under ‘culture’ wars), but can often be someone pointing out something that we hadn’t considered.
As leaders we get more of the negative feedback because we are perceived to be the ones with the power to change things (even if it’s not actually that simple). But that’s why it’s so important to remember that most feedback is not personal. It’s not about us as a human being, it’s about us in our role as leader of something that people think matter.
When I say you need to separate yourself as a human being from your role as the leader I am not asking you to behave inauthentically. But being authentic is not about bringing your unfettered self to leadership situations – it’s about being authentic to your role as a leader.
As a parent, you wouldn’t share with your young child the fact that you find your partner so irritating to live with you are only waiting until your child is 18 before heading for the hills! You are authentic to your role as a parent where the expectation is that you help your child to feel safe, secure and loved. This means you manage your own emotions appropriately so that you can carry out that role to the best of your ability.
It’s exactly the same with being a leader.
But I know it’s not easy. And our It’s Tough at the Top – Good Leadership Matters conference on 23 November is the ideal place to come and hear input from folk who have been where you are, have learned the lessons and are willing to share them so we can all be the best leadership versions of ourselves as possible. Find out more and book your tickets here.