Finding the leader within ourselves

Why yet another article about leadership?

I’ve had an unusually busy few weeks so the gap between my blogs has been greater than usual. However the magical combination, for me, of coming across an inspirational article, engaging with enthusiastic people, and listening to others’ ideas at a conference has finally triggered my own reflections!

So, this blog is about leadership.  As Julia Hordle, a speaker at this week’s Perfect Information 2014 (#PIC2014) conference, pointed out, there is already a lot of literature on this topic.  So, like Julia, I’m not making any claims to be an expert, nor am I going to try to cover the whole area.  These are just a few points that have struck me in what I heard from her and others this week.

Everyone in a team is a potential leader

I can’t remember who said this during the years that I was working at GlaxoSmithKline.  It may have been one of the values that informed our performance review discussions. The idea was that everyone within a team had a particular area of expertise and a particular strength, and by exercising leadership in those, could really add value to the work of the team.  (This was often referred to as ’empowerment’.)

It was whilst I was at GSK that I was also introduced to ‘Lessons from Geese‘, inspired by Milton Olson, and beautifully captured in the video by Breakthrough Global.  Amongst the several lessons is that of everyone taking a turn at doing things, rather than expecting the team leader to do it all.

Some of the lessons from geese for high performing teams
Some of the lessons from geese for high performing teams

Julia Hordle shared another video, Lord Digby Jones’ 5 tips to business where he encourages leaders to train their teams to do the simple things well so that, when they are faced by challenging tasks, their intuition can kick in and so, by implication, exercise leadership in what they do.

As my co-speaker, Steve Boronski, pointed out during our joint workshop at #PIC2014 on “Project Management through a knowledge and information management lens”, when everyone within a team is clear on what they are expected to do, and has the training to do it, then the team leader’s role is ‘simply’ that of managing by exception: providing the support and direction to deal with the unexpected.

Also on this point, the article that has inspired me to write this blog is the one on Blue Ocean Leadership, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, in the May 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review (pp.60-72), pointed out by my business colleague Sarah Hillman.  There are some terrific insights in the article on the behaviours of ‘to-be’ as opposed to ‘as-is’ leadership.  I particularly liked the concept of “inspiring people to give their all as opposed to holding people back”.

Leadership is about daring to do or say what others might not

A member of the audience during Julia Hordle’s presentation at #PIC2014 quoted some recent figures, one of those bold generalisations, to the effect that women will only consider taking on a new position when they are 80% sure of their capabilities to deliver it, whereas men will do so when they are 50% sure.  The delegate wondered whether this might have a bearing on the behaviour of leaders.  I, like many others, dislike such generalisations but they can also be food for thought.

Another member of the audience (a man) responded that there might be some truth in this because he does not hold back, as a leader, from voicing opinions that others might consider stupid.  The discussion continued along the lines that leaders, and indeed any team member, should be confident enough to air their views.  This will benefit the team in the long run and, although it may carry risks for the individual, being true to yourself does ultimately deliver benefits to you too.

Which brings me to the particularly enthusiastic people that have inspired me this week.  I spent a very enjoyable hour with some young entrepreneurs on the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy course at Cambridge Regional Centre.  We were exploring the topic of team make-up and leadership.  At a certain point I asked them to write out their personal strengths on individual post-it notes: the strengths that they might bring to a team.  About 60% of the notes carried the word ‘confidence’!  They certainly came across as a very confident set of people.  At least 3 of them had already set up their businesses, in such areas as luxury goods and organising musical events, and many of the rest were looking forward to doing so as they moved on to their business degrees.

And yet…

Leadership is also about communication and empathy

What made those young entrepreneurs so enjoyable to speak to was that not only were they very vocal and articulate, they were also clearly listening to and reflecting about what we were discussing.  Amongst the many post-it notes about confidence, there were also several with the words ’empathy’ and ‘listening’.

Julia Hordle and Lord Digby Jones had a lot to say about the importance of a leader’s communication skills (as listeners as well as conveyers of messages), and their ability to inspire trust.  A leader’s ability to empathise is something I’ve explored in a previous blog.

I came away from my interaction with the PJEA students feeling quite enthused about the qualities that many of them would bring to their future roles as leaders.


Elisabeth Goodman is the owner and Principal Consultant of RiverRhee Consulting and a trainer,  facilitator, one-to-one coach, speaker and writer, with a passion for and a proven track record in improving team performance and leading business change projects on a local or global basis. 

Elisabeth is an expert in knowledge management, and is accredited in change management, Lean Six Sigma and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  She has a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Information Science, is a full member of the Chartered Institute of Information and Library Professionals (CILIP) and of the Association for Project Management (APM) and is also registered as a Growth Coach and Leadership & Management trainer with the GrowthAccelerator.

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ Pharma R&D experience as a line manager and internal trainer / consultant, most recently at GSK and its legacy companies, and is now enjoying working with a number of SMEs and larger organisations around the Cambridge cluster as well as further afield in the UK and in Europe.

1 thought on “Finding the leader within ourselves”

  1. Pingback: A ‘Fist of Five’ management tips and tools. RiverRhee Consulting newsletter, May-June 2014 | Newsletter

Leave a Comment