Leadership is an important role to have in a business or community, it’s what determines the course of action, sets the standard and holds people accountable. It’s a label that people are sometimes given, even if they don’t want it, and some are happy to adopt it without much care or consideration for what it means and the responsibilities involved.
The reality is, whether you want to be a leader or not, once you have been identified as one you have to take responsibility for it and work on acting appropriately in that role. The alternative is to actively remove yourself from having that kind of authority — not everyone is adequately equipped to be leaders or to represent an industry as a whole and that is OK, but you need to decide if that is something you are capable of doing, or not. If you have found yourself in a place where you have become a leader unexpectedly and you don’t know what you are doing, now is the time to learn how to be an effective leader.
For me, a good leader is someone who sets the standard, drives things forward, and provides valuable contributions. They motivate others and help forge a path forward. Being a leader is about doing the right thing — not because someone might notice you, but because it’s the right thing to do. A good leader has integrity and they are sincere in their passion and enthusiasm. They give credit for accomplishments, acknowledge mistakes and aim to create respectful, safe discussions.
Types of leaders
Depending on what kind of leader someone is, there might be different expectations. From a tech perspective I think there are two main roles, an industry leader and a community leader.
An industry leader is someone who solves new problems, explains things in a new way, drives education of a particular subject, contributes to a particular piece of technology or specification and can actively demonstrate their skills, knowledge and experience.
An industry leader is not necessarily someone who presents at a conference, writes blog posts or tweets. All of these things can form part of what makes someone a leader, but sharing knowledge or opinions should not automatically make someone an industry leader.
A community leader is someone who sets the standard, drives things forward, and actively contributes to the community. They organise, plan, make decisions and they hold their community accountable for their actions. A community leader is someone who engages, participates and helps their community. They contribute and share because they want to see the people around them grow.
A community leader is not necessarily someone who is extremely visible. If your gauge for a “leader” is that you can see them then you are not taking a close enough look.
There are a lot of people who participate in the background. For example, in my experience, if someone is running events, it is more likely that they won’t be heavily visible, especially during an event. Events take a lot of work and effort, typically organisers don’t have time to chat because they have an event to run.
Being “known” in the community does not, on its own, make someone a community leader. To lead is to take responsibility, presence isn’t enough. You earn the title of leader by actively contributing your time, energy and experience to help others — and by building safe, respectful environments for people to grow, learn and develop together.
How to be a better leader
Leadership positions come with benefits, but being a leader, especially in communities, shouldn’t be a means to an end or a platform for individuals to step over others. That is not leadership. Leadership roles come with responsibilities and those in that position should be prepared to have tough conversations, take responsibility for tough situations and make difficult decisions. There is work involved that doesn’t include personal profile building, or getting your name out there. Leadership is about raising everyone up, not just yourself, and not just your clique.
A leader that raises people up, and shares opportunities throughout the community and industry creates a place where everyone can support each other. They spread the “power” to others rather than keeping it for themselves or a select group. This allows everyone to grow and enables each person to help someone else.
When you focus on the whole you create a more supportive, diverse group, with a much broader range of skills and knowledge.
These people then lift each other up as they develop, raising the experience of the community or industry as a whole.
When so much of who you are is tied up in being a leader of an industry or community it’s natural to be protective of your position. Leaders can often fall into the trap of thinking if they help too many people they will become irrelevant. If you think about your position as a leader as being about you and what you get out of it, then yes, you will soon become irrelevant. However, if you shift your perspective and realise that the best way for you to lead is to help the people around you, you will realise that your success becomes related to theirs, and as they succeed, so will you. Generally people don’t forget those who have helped them, and hopefully they will be there to support and help you when you need them.
Your impact on a time or place can either be measured by single acts completed for your own gain, or by what you did with your knowledge to help others.
The latter has an everlasting impact, it may not always be attributed directly to you, but it has a flow on effect that would only be possible because of your efforts.
Finally, it’s important to remember that leaders are learning as well. They will make mistakes, they won’t always get things right, but a good leader will reflect on those mistakes, acknowledge, learn and make changes that will improve their community or industry as a result. As a community we should support our leaders — just as they help us we should be there to help them. Don’t just take from the people that lead you, give something back as well.
Special thanks to Sandy!