I’ve been reflecting a lot on leadership recently.  As a former executive director and now facilitating peer cohorts of executive directors, I’ve been thinking about what’s changed in leadership approaches over the years, what stays consistent and what resources can provide us ‘food for thought’ or practical ideas to try.

The core of good leadership

A number of years ago I wrote about what I thought made an inspirational leader.  The importance of those qualities all remain with ‘Respect for others’ and ‘Humility’ being fundamental wherever and however you may be a leader.  As an organizational leader there are some additional approaches that are also core.

  • Member of the team – We may have a title and we may have some experiences and skills to share, but we are only one piece of the puzzle. Respect for others on our teams (whatever their official ‘status’) and the humility to learn something from everyone and every experience strengthens us as leaders.
  • Inclusion and agency/empowerment – Looking for diverse team members for the ideas and experiences they bring to the organization and creating an environment for them to thrive and become leaders themselves is an important leadership approach.
  • Strong internal communication – It should be obvious but communication is two way and often when we get busy and rushed, asking for and listening to feedback can fall to the wayside.  Having internal communication structures to help support this can help.
  • Relationships – It has always been about relationships and trust. Creating and maintaining good relationships with the individuals and teams you work with (board, staff, committees, etc…) can seem time consuming but it is always worth it, especially when navigating challenging conversations and situations.

What’s changing/evolving

  • It starts with us – As we, our organizations, and the external environment we are in navigate challenging situations, we need to be grounded ourselves to lead others. Focusing on how our personal perspectives and challenges come into the workplace has come more to the forefront.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion – We are seeing a greater focus on how to be more inclusive and equitable (DEI – diversity, equity and inclusion). Although for many leaders these have always been important values (see above re: the core of good leadership) there is now greater attention to how these values should be reflected organization wide.
  • Empathy – There is a greater attention to empathy (historically seen as a female trait; now often seen as positive traits for leaders of any gender).
  • Power – How can power be shared/dispersed within teams?
  • Agility – A more agile approach to leadership – the future is seeming less predictable and therefore leaders have to be prepared to be ‘unprepared’ and shift quickly.
  • Comfort with discomfort – Becoming comfortable with leading/negotiating deeper conversations (around power, race, gender, etc..)

Some ideas for strengthening leadership skills

  • It starts within: Be open to your own biases and shortcomings.
  • Behavior change is a practice: Where you need to change yourself, intentionality and practice need to come into play. Develop a personal reflection and change practice that works for you; find a peer support group or an ‘accountability’ buddy that can keep you focused on carving out time for this.
  • Be a lifelong learner – This doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of time towards classes or structured learning; we’re all pressed for time. It can be whatever works within your own time constraints – short readings that provoke your own thinking or organizing informal learning sessions for your team are two ideas.
  • Seek out diverse perspectives: Be open to different ways and approaches and learn from a variety of cultures.  This could include putting yourself in environments where you can learn from diverse groups; seeking out a range of people to follow and connect with on social media; or reading a wider range of authors than you may have in the past.
  • Champions: Look for the ‘champions’ within your organization who will help you think through and support difficult decisions you may have to make. This is especially important through any organizational change.
  • Moving on: This can be easier said than done, but we often dwell on mistakes, taking energy away from what needs to be done next. Try to minimize second guessing yourself and ‘regrets’ – learn from any mistakes you make and move on.

Some leadership resources  https://www.goinginternational.com/resources/leadership-resources/  Do you have favorites to share?