As Director of Executive Education, it is my pleasure to kick-start this blog. Through this blog I look forward to introducing you to some of our incredible faculty who contribute to the program, as well as to some of our cohort participants and invited guests who will share their own lessons in leadership with you. The purpose of this blog is, like our own programs, to illustrate the variety of ways that we look at and learn about leadership. Our goal is to take a moment to make sense of all that learning and share it with others in the hope that it supports them in their own professional development.
Rachel’s Perspective: Leaders vs. Followers?
I’ve always had an issue with the way the relationship between the two parties has been described in leadership texts. My issue relates to the term ‘follower(s)’ as in ‘a leader and their follower(s)’. In my opinion, this is a passive view of those involved in the relationship with the assigned or emergent leader. This view serves only to distort the realities of what I believe to be the most productive and healthy relationship between the parties involved.
But how did this become an issue for me? Through two lessons, one entirely experiential and one more ‘formalized’ learning experience.
An Early Lesson in Leadership
In the early 90s I was working for one of the world’s largest FMCG firms and had the privilege of being led consecutively by two VERY different leaders. At the time I believed that the first of the two leaders with whom I worked was simply not a ‘good’ leader as we had challenges in our working relationship and being young and relatively inexperienced I put this all down to the leader and her approach. Immediately after this experience I took a new role within the company and everything changed. I was working for another leader who became for me something of a mentor. Our relationship brought out only the best in me and as a result the impact we had as a team was incredible. THIS was true leadership I thought.
However, nearly twenty years later I now have the joy of hindsight and an awful lot of learning to realize that each relationship was a partnership and that the nature of each partnership was unique and shouldn’t be compared. Each offered a huge amount of learning about what it means to lead. And as a partnership EACH party had responsibility for the success (and failure!) of the relationship.
The Leadership Tango
Which brings me to the second lesson. In the middle of the last decade as I was seeking my certification as an Executive Leadership Coach I was privileged to take part in a workshop about the role of leadership in dance; in particular, the tango. I learned that in true tango, although there may be an assigned leader, the role and responsibilities of the leader passes instinctively between the two parties as they interpret the dance. This was a breakthrough moment for me in my understanding of leadership. It explained what I had believed about effective leadership all along; that as a follower we have an equally active role in the relationship. There are times where it is appropriate that we take the lead in order to ensure that our common goals (in this case the most beautiful and technically correct interpretation of the music) are achieved. This takes place not only through direction or system but through a common passion for the experience and the outcomes. This is my preferred approach to leadership.
Interpreting the Music
I am constantly learning about leadership both through my experiences, through ‘formalized’ learning opportunities and less formal ones. Most commonly this occurs through my interaction with my peers, and each day I strive to interpret the ‘music’ in the best way I can so that those who join me in ‘the dance’ have their opportunity to lead too.
We invite you to join us as we use this blog to explore the lessons in leadership experienced by the executive education team, our cohort participants and invited guests.
Please feel free through the comments to share your own lessons in leadership with others.