I was once asked these questions:
Who is the best leader you have ever worked for? How did this person make you feel?
They are good questions. And I had an immediate answer. Being led by someone that you like and respect is of course a memorable thing. Perhaps because, sadly, it is all too rare.
As a subject, vast numbers of words have been written about leadership. Traits. Qualities. Theories. A trawl through professional networking sites will provide you with a plethora of clickbait on the subject, often offering contradictory ideas about what good leadership is all about, what successful leaders do every day, and so on.
When I was asked these questions, we were using the appreciative inquiry model. Naturally therefore, they are constructed positively. A valid and useful technique.
But it occurred to me that there is much too that we can learn from poor leadership. If you flip the questions that were posed to me, I reckon that most people have an equally easy answer. Who is the worst leader you have ever worked for? And how did they make you feel?
Ask questions like these and most people have a story; one about something that they have experienced or witnessed. I know that I do. Heck, I have worked for an organisation that reserved certain toilets for the bottoms of the Executive team, lest they had to share the seat with the hoi polloi. That was one interesting piece of internal comms.
For me, some of my biggest lessons in leadership came from observing the kind of leader that I didn’t want to be. From reflecting on how those people had made me feel, and resolving never to do the same to someone else.
I didn’t want to be the kind of leader who didn’t respond to the needs of my team, or their emails or holiday requests. It taught me the importance of dealing with the hygiene stuff.
I didn’t want to be the kind of leader who didn’t care about the professional development of the people that worked for me. It taught me how much this really matters when it comes to engagement and motivation – mine and everyone else’s.
I certainly didn’t want to be the kind of leader who forgot what it was like to be earning the minimum wage but was happy to talk about their executive package in front of others. A lesson from my very first job….. and I have never forgotten exactly how that made me feel as I worried about my student loan repayments.
There is learning in all our experiences, the positive and the less so positive.
As leaders (official or otherwise), we must never underestimate the power we have to be a role model – for good or other. Which one are you?