Having read Steve Foreshew’s blog post announcing that he was leaving GDS, one sentiment jumped out at me more than the rest…

“Leadership is not a role or a job. Leadership is a privilege that is earned not given. And leaders can only succeed with the permission, trust and support of the team.”

Being a leader is like being an artist. It is not for one to call themselves a leader — it is only other people who can describe you as such.

I’ve never struggled to find mentors and colleagues that will lead me, but I often find people calling themselves leaders act a lot more like a boss.

The frequently shared image of a boss versus a leader

There are a great number of bosses in the world, but less people that would be called leaders. How can we change this?

The term ‘servant leadership’ — is becoming a popular topic. The principal idea being — how can a leader make it easier for their team to get quality work done, by putting them first.

I think sport is a microcosm of real life, and can teach us a lot about what makes a good leader.

If you are captain of a football team, you should:

  • be prepared to address the referee on behalf of the team
  • make personal sacrifices for the benefit of the team
  • play in a way that is not for individual glory, but for the greater good
  • lead by example, exhibiting the desired behaviour for all the team to copy

The rest of the team need to trust and respect that the captain will support them when needed, and represent them and their club.

My career trajectory is such, that I hope one day I could be described by others as a good leader.

  • I take opportunities to train, mentor and encourage others to improve
  • I challenge where the team feel things need to be changed
  • I am comfortable being the one to raise concerns if they are sensitive or controversial
  • I’m willing to compromise to reach a quick decision
  • I’m interested in a team’s ideas, and encourage feedback on my performance
  • I would never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself

A leader must exhibit these behaviours, and also be an example for the team to follow. This is a constant balancing act between being a disrupting influence (say Eric Cantona) and a squeaky clean nice person (Gary Lineker).

The make up of any team needs to be a balance between those who push boundaries to create change, and those more diplomatic team members who will make compromise and keep the team happy.

In order to achieve this balance, good leaders find a way to be challenging — but in a way that is not too disruptive or abrasive, so that the challenge is met with acceptance not opposition.

How do we get more leaders?

  • Exhibit the behaviours of good leaders ourselves
  • Challenge those that are in responsible roles, to put the team first
  • Push back against bossy requests that are unreasonable
  • Question the example we are setting for others, and improve ourselves

Developer, Scrum master and Agile Coach

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