Freelance arts consultant
What makes a good leader?
For me, good leaders have vision, integrity, competence, determination, imagination, innovation and self-awareness. But, I don’t think personal qualities alone make for effective leadership because this only focuses on the individual and I see leadership as a process. Put simply – good leaders don’t ‘do it alone’!
An effective leader gets results because their visions have integrity and are compelling - they inspire, enthuse and attract a shared commitment to the goal/organisation/project/ policy… They pull people rather than push – and don’t rely on position, job title or force to influence.
A leadership process might be a sense-making or direction-giving within a group or organisation. The ‘leader’ might only be identified on the basis of his or her relationship with others in the group who are behaving as ‘followers’. Good leadership is best achieved when leaders and followers are enablers of each other with a good sense of trust and of interdependence. This process allows for leaders to be emergent and it also allows for fluidity and movement between being a ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ depending on the task at hand, particular expertise or knowledge required etc – and again is not predefined by job title or role.
So, if leadership is a process - then leadership responsibility is dissociated from the organisational hierarchy. Everyone, regardless of role, can demonstrate leadership qualities and influence. But lets be honest – hierarchical structures are pretty much everywhere – and in some organisations the ‘hierarchical leaders’ are clinging on to their outdated style of dictatorial leadership for dear life! Which brings me back full circle to personal qualities.
A ‘bad’ leader will influence by using position, job title or force. A good leader will listen and question, be reflective, be open to different perspectives and genuinely value skills, experience and expertise that is different to (or greater than) their own. They will assimilate, analyse and give sense, clarity and direction – and most importantly they will be totally OK about not having all of the answers all of the time.
Is leadership different for disabled people?
Firstly, I’m not even sure that I ‘qualify’ to be here. Some may feel that having fertility treatment ‘doesn’t count’ because it does, admittedly, involve choice. But my experience is a health issue that has dominated the last 6 years of my life - and changed my experience of leadership.
I’m not ‘out and proud’. Partly because it’s still so painful. Partly because there’s still so much prejudice around women and maternity leave – let alone maternity leave preceded by fertility treatment – as if it’s ‘worse’ because it’s so PLANNED – but aren’t many pregnancies – just more privately? But also because on occasions that I have disclosed professionally I’ve felt too many assumptions are made about what I can and can’t ‘cope with’, that I’m no longer a ‘safe bet’ for that challenging piece of work and that sometimes decisions about what I do and don’t do have been made for me.
I noticed subtle shifts in the behaviour of those around me. For me leadership has always been about innovation - which involves some risk taking. Suddenly I found myself working against a different backdrop – where I personally was now seen as the risk. Less ‘buy in’ than usual, and a fear that ‘it’s all going to go horribly wrong’. I’ve been told to re-think the ambition of projects I was planning, to think about going part time, to take a lesser role and some have even told me I should stop working altogether.
As behaviour changed around me, I think my behaviour and leadership style changed too. I think at times I became less inclusive. I even think at times I was in the dangerous ‘heroic’ leader position, where all hangs on one person. I definitely went into ‘super achieve’ mode - and I’m still not sure how much I was trying to prove something to myself and how much to ‘others’. At other times I felt myself ‘shrink’. I totally lost my sense of ‘entitlement’ to be ‘where I was’ and this feeling sometimes lasted for months and months. I also managed the drug side affects and fluctuations in my mental health in private. I organised my working life around time in and out of hospital – which mostly involved using annual leave. I never once ‘screwed up’. And I only ever disclosed again to a chosen few professional colleagues that I trusted would ‘get it’.
The experience of ‘failure’ has sadly continued to go hand in hand with my experience of fertility treatment. So sensing assumptions that I was also ‘going to fail’ in my working life, had a major impact on my mental health, confidence and self esteem.
I work freelance now and am engaged in many new challenges – some of them scary, some of them stretching me beyond my comfort zone, some of them just to pay the bills. I haven’t yet made sense of it all or ‘got there’ in terms of who I am, what my strengths are, where I’m going, what my needs are, what I have to offer, what my leadership qualities are. But I do know that for me personally, having a long-term health issue has affected my experience of leadership. Some of the barriers are internal some are external. I also know that I’m watching myself much more closely when in ‘leadership positions’ to ensure that I achieve consistency between what I believe – and what I do and how I behave.