When I used to hear the term leader, I often visualised a man standing on a chair with one foot on the table with his hand in the air, surrounded by his team cheering and chanting, I think I’ve seen a picture of this and it stuck. This visual is a vintage ideal of a leader, from a time when the great man theory was all we had to work with. It has been useful especially at times when challenging my own perceptions and shaping my understanding of a leader.

At the start of my formal education of leadership, I admit I saw leaders as men in suits, taking a company to the top of it’s game by any means possible and hadn’t really considered the possibility that there was such a thing as a natural leader, position be damned.  I’ve never worked in a corporate environment (another vintage idea that leaders are only cultivated in corporate roles) and the only leader in the organisation was the manager or so I thought, again back to position.

However, the term leadership is much broader than I gave it credit for. I now believe it is less of a position, more about the actions taken by a person and it applies to personal life as much as professional.

An effective leader does not have to have a set position for example they do not have to sit at the head of an organisation, they can be anywhere within the organisational structure and if the organisation is savvy, they will utilise those skills to best effect. They will be flexible in their approach to the job at hand and the team, they can offer a pull or a push approach depending on the situation, ultimately it is these kinds of actions that make the leader effective and the team / organisation successful or not.

I’ve had my share both effective and ineffective managers over the years and on reflection it is clear that the person’s actions made the difference.  In my experience it’s the leaders who know their staff and accept that working with human beings will see it’s fair share of mistakes, failures, successes, have the basis to be a good leader. The flexibility and allowance to make mistakes creates a learning platform that engages people in the desire to succeed, to work towards their own, the team and the organisations goals. I worked on two cruise liners with two very different managers, one who worked her way up against all the odds and one who was given the role without needing to work at it. Upon getting caught going to the wrong bar on my first summer cruise, the first manager said “I have been there, I understand you wanted to try it but do not do it again”. I had the utmost respect for her, she had this natural approach and people didn’t step out of line often, they worked hard to be the best they could be, me included. On my third cruise I again made an error of judgment, based on my emotional state at the time and I knew immediately I had made a mistake but the second manager absolutely ripped me to shreds, she wasn’t interested in why or apologies, she just wanted to assert her authority. The level of work and morale on that cruise was evident in the lack of respect, there was lots of talking behind her back, there was less effort in the job by the staff as a whole and a huge distance between staff and manager, a gap she’d firmly placed. These two examples will never be forgotten as they are my guides for my own leadership. Making someone feel worthy and held accountable for their actions is s skill worth having, it will support the person to be the best they can be. When you have a team working to full capacity on your behalf comes from your actions towards others.

The visual I am replacing the old picture with is one of a confident, empathetic person who motivates and inspires through being the best version of themselves while bringing out the best in others. There’s no male, female, age or position in my new visual, it’s all about the actions.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the people in your organisation in ‘leadership roles are the only leaders, there are people propping up your success with their actions every day.