What makes a good leader?
Prior to becoming an actor, I spent 10 years working in business – usually sales or customer service related. The latter part of that was spent in management – so I have some personal experience of leadership from both sides of the coin.
Fist of all, I have to say that the concept of ‘leadership’ has to be de-mystified. Leadership is essentially a skill, and as such can be learnt. Contentiously, I could argue the same about Acting. In both cases, some people are naturally good at it and some have to work hard at it.
In both my old and new careers, I decided that if I wanted to do something well (or I’d rather not even bother) then I would need to be trained, and learn the skills and techniques that could make me effective. In the case of management I studied towards an MBA; in the case of acting, I went to Drama School.
Essentially for me an effective leader is someone who achieves the goals of his/her group or organisation by: - Having great communication skills - Employing a hearts & minds strategy for investing in people - Recognising the importance of a bottom up approach - Knowing when to listen, and when to act - Managing change - Having the courage to take a risk - Taking responsibility for their actions
In any field, success or failure depends on the whether outcomes meet or exceed the goals that are set. Typically if our goals and objectives are in line with those set by others, we are perceived as successful by those people.
Is leadership different for disabled people?
So, we come to the issue of disability and leadership. It’s a fair point to generalise and say that disabled people are accustomed to overcoming obstacles, to challenging paradigms, to being determined, and to having a good understanding of the human condition. These things might be true, and they are qualities that inherent in a good leader, but that’s not always enough.
We need to look what can be done to encourage disabled people to learn and practise the skills of leadership. It could be said that some disabled leaders and disabled actors suffer from the absence of two core principles - training and opportunity. Perhaps naively, but I believe that the former can influence the latter.
There simply aren’t enough disabled actors training professionally. We need to identify some root causes for this – in my case it was psychological. I didn’t train till I was 28. I never thought anyone would employ an actor with cerebral palsy, in what a friend recently described to me as the ‘body fascist world’ of the arts.
Do you think there are barriers to leadership for disabled people that non disabled people don’t face?
Where were the characters on TV and stage? Who could I look to for inspiration? It took me ten years to run out of excuses and do it anyway. My disability is less severe than others, and I recognise some would have greater challenges to face.
Whether it is for leadership or the arts, or both, let’s start by encouraging people to go for it, and pushing organisations to provide opportunities to develop their skills.
The more leaders we train and nurture (that happen to have a disability), the more actors we coach and develop (that happen to have a disability) the greater the chance of:
a) Competing in a traditionally non-disabled environment and b) Creating inclusive (not exclusive) opportunities of our own c) Becoming more visible and accepted as the norm.
No innovation is achieved without change or risk. Let’s nurture our raw talent to have the confidence to dream, and help them to act on it.