What type of leader do you want to be?

With thoughts still firmly rooted in the work we did as a group on the Cranfield University School of Management “IT Leadership Programme”, I wanted to share one more snippet that really struck a chord (even more so than everything else that really did strike a chord) from our last day there.

Paul Burfitt, once of AstraZeneca, was on hand to provide evidence and wisdom from his time as CIO after the merger of those two organisations. Whilst his honesty and insight were illuminating and easy to cross-reference with my own work, there was one slide he presented on the day that really got my brain working overtime. The slide was set out like rugby posts with two vertical lines indicating a) the type of leader we want to be and b) the type of leader others expect us to be; with a horizontal arrow indicating the gap that exists between the two positions. My suggestion was that gap would have different widths depending on who you work with/talk to.

Paul kept coming back to the theme of this slide throughout the rest of the day, constantly challenging our understanding of what type of leader we think we currently are, against the type of leader we would eventually like to be. I couldn’t stop thinking about this point. Do I really know what type of leader I am, and how much does that differ from the type of leader I want to become?

Do I?

An easier way of looking at it is to tell you what I don’t want to be. But is that enough? I’ve set out not to be the matey, overly friendly leader — but does this mean I always adhere to the boundaries when the “guard is down” and we are discussing what we did on the weekend? As a 40yo married father of two, my admissions are somewhat tamer than what they would have been 20 years ago, but the candid nature of the conversation usually opens a portal in to my life that many other leaders may keep from their teams.

I try hard not to be a hands on, micro-manager involved (overly so) in every detail of what my team and colleagues work on; but does this make me too detached, aloof from the issues they face — especially if I have not been clear enough on when they should/can come to me?

The session also made me think of my role as a father, a natural — not born per se — leader to a young family, where modern life poses a wholly different set of challenges to when I was a child; looking up to my adult “leaders”. Again, the theme of “I don’t want to…” appears to be the guiding principle, rather than a clear cut understanding of what “I do want to…” be as a father; family leading role.

I never want to lose my temper in a way that could result in thoughts of hitting/striking out in frustration like parents of old might have done — I haven’t’; I won’t. I aim for a position where I am not pushy or demanding and overly involved, especially where sport and friends are concerned. I don’t want to be detached or aloof so that they can’t speak to me when they have a problem. Are you starting to see a few parallels here?

What I have decided to do over the four weeks between now and my next block of work at Cranfield is to try to have an almost out of body experience whilst leading in action. To be a fly on my own wall and see how I behave when confronted with the need to lead — or, just as important, how do I lead when others around me are unaware they are necessarily being lead? I’m not sure or convinced it will be an easy process — introspective reviews are not the most comfortable of things, especially when you think you already know the (negative) outcome.

It’s clear that I don’t have the answers here. I’m definitely not 100% sure I know what type of leader I want to be? Dynamic, proactive, authoritative, supportive — are often words bandied about, that fit with the way I work; but I am not sure they are words I can pin my hat on as a leader. What if I spun it a different way and suggested open, reflective, inquisitive, productive — whilst again, just words — but words that could form the backbone of an approach, a position to work to. It’s a start, a new start in many ways, but is that not what being a leader is all about — not only learning, but challenging yourself to adapt, to change, when the need arises?

If the leader I am today is the leader I want to be tomorrow, will the team I am leading still want to be lead in the same manner — even when different circumstances arise? That’s my challenge over these four weeks — four months, four years from now. Not just to stop and reflect, but to make sure I never stop trying to be a better leader — no matter what others may think of me now.