Busting the Myths of Leadership
Most of our ideas about what makes a leader come from the Industrial Age. It’s all about working harder than anyone else, natural charisma, being a tough negotiator, an inspirational speaker, being up front, taking the final decision, winning.
At the same time we tell leaders to be emotionally intelligent, to connect, to coach, to delegate and empower. It’s no surprise we’re all so confused, right?
In fact, being a leader isn’t terribly complicated. After all, what is a leader? Someone who looks at what is, and what could be, and disrupts the status quo to bring about change. Leadership can come from anywhere. It’s not all about your senior executives or the Board. Leadership isn’t a job title. It’s a way of being, and seeing the world.
Leaders create more leaders
We have to let go of the idea that leaders create followers. Today we need leaders who create more leadership. We want leadership to pop up all over the organisation. We want individuals to take ownership for solving problems and gather together a group of other people who can help bring about that change.
Companies need clarity of purpose
In order to do this (without chaos) companies need to have a clear purpose. This is more than a mission statement or bland values…sorry, Brand Values. It’s genuine clarity about why the business exists in the world. What is it here to do? When purpose beats everything else (including shareholder value) leadership can emerge. Employees see the organisation’s purpose and they see what’s getting in the way and they are given freedom to solve the problem.
Hierarchical thinking inhibits innovation
Our Industrial Age forefathers operated their businesses like machines. And the hierarchy is very machine-like, isn’t it? But today’s businesses have to be agile, responsive and ready to pivot at any time to adapt to the changing context in which the organisation operates. Human being aren’t great machines. Anyway if, as predicted, bots are going to do half of the jobs currently done by humans in the next decade, it’s our humanity we need to leverage. Leaders need to create space for others to do great work and then get out of the way. That means not being the answers-person any more, but being the curious questions-person. It means getting out of the day to day and sensing, observing, imagining and reflecting. It means swallowing the ego and finding a deeper meaning in your work.
Bug-fix because there are no right answers
Leaders must let go of having all the answers because there are none! It’s the Wild West out there. Instead, we need to be quick learners, fast failures and listen so hard to what other people say that we might actually change our minds. By the time you’re 99% sure you’re right it’s too late anyway.
Think like a CEO
Leaders see the organisation as a whole. They don’t battle for recognition for their team or resources for their team or special treatment for their team. They step outside of the siloes and see the organisation as a single entity. Beyond that they see what’s going on in their industry, in the world beyond and reflect on how that impacts the decisions being made today.
They don’t worry about the competition because they aren’t fighting to be number one in today’s market. They are aware that the threat is from disrupters coming up their blindside so they become the disrupters, rethinking their industry and what the future consumer/planet will need.
None of this is hard
It’s about being a human being. It’s about stripping back all the theory and going on a journey of self-development. That’s all leadership development is in fact – personal growth. As long as we stay connected with ourselves and take ourselves outside our comfort zones we can grow. The organisation can only be as developed as its leaders so we owe it to our staff, our customers and the wider community to reveal more of who we are to them and to ourselves.
Interview with Blair Palmer
How did you begin your speaking career?
I’ve been coaching leaders for nearly 20 years and I was a BBC journalist before that. In both of these roles your opinion is irrelevant. Coaches and journalists are meant to be neutral. But, as a child I had always wanted to be a performer – an actor, a singer and even a tightrope walker in the circus. We cannot hide our true colours forever! When I hit 40 my opinions started ‘leaking out’ more in coaching sessions. Eventually someone asked me if I could speak at a conference about some of my ideas and the little actress in me said yes. I love being able to distil my nearly 30 years of experience and the universal lessons about leadership and change that I learnt during that time in to 45 minutes, just like a journalist helps us understand something as complex as a big world event in a three minute news story.
What makes you so passionate about leadership?
The newsroom is a tough environment. It’s not always a healthy one. I share my own experiences of a bullying boss with audiences because it was in that pivotal moment, when I was still in my 20s, that I started wondering how we create organisations where, instead of suffocating people and their ideas, we allow people and their ideas to thrive. Work has the potential to provide a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives and business has the opportunity to be a force for good in the world, but only when leaders understand their responsibility.
Why do clients hire you to speak?
You know how tempting it is in a busy restaurant or bar to listen in to the conversation on the next table? You want to know what other people talk about, think about, feel is important. Well, I’ve sat at hundreds of boardroom tables and through thousands of hours of coaching conversations and I give audiences the opportunity to understand what the best and worst of those leaders talk about, think about and feel is important. A keynote speaker should always be entertaining, tell great stories, connect with the audience and build trust straight away, and generate energy and momentum so that people take action after. I combine all of that with the insights I’ve gained from being the person other leaders confide in so that you get the wisdom of all of those private conversations.
What have you learnt about change in your own life?
In 2018, I sold our house and set off with my daughter and our two dogs on an RV adventure around Europe. My intention was to test some of my theories about change and put myself outside my comfort zone. It’s something I talk about in my speech “You Don’t Have To Be Mad To Work Here”. This experience taught me that changing your situation or your circumstances is only the first step in the journey of change. Most people think it is the last. Having made a change to the mechanics of your life, or your business, or your team, or your product, you then embark on the REAL journey of change where your beliefs and assumptions are questioned, your bad habits of thinking and being are exposed, and you must grow and evolve as a person. When we stay within our comfort zone we don’t have the opportunity to grow or learn. Change begins the moment you step outside your comfort zone.
Describe yourself in 3 words
Funny, insightful, short.