Friday 19 September 2014

Test Leadership

Fiona Charles began her Test Leadership tutorial at Let's Test Oz by sharing, in her own words, a definition of leadership from Jerry Weinberg:

Leaders create a space where people are empowered to do their best work 

She then offered her own version of this definition, which differed only by one word:

Leaders create a space where people are inspired to do their best work 

This set the scene for an interactive tutorial that provided clarity about how leaders are defined, how they act, and how they grow.

Defining a leader

The first exercise asked us to reflect on our experiences with testing leaders. In small groups, we were asked to share our stories, and discuss the skills and strengths that these leaders possessed.

I heard about:
  • a leader who could accurately assess the abilities of those around them and determine which tasks each person would find interesting, challenging, or rewarding.
  • a leader who worked out how to successfully motivate people so that they became driven to seek knowledge and achieve independently.
  • a leader who could link people together, within organisations and further afield, creating mutually beneficial relationships where none had previously existed.

I thought that the experiences of my group could be summarised by one word; connection. In each example it seemed that the leader was creating connection; between people and tasks, between people and what motivated them, or simply between people.

When it came time for the class to share, it became apparent that we had focused on identifying the actions of leaders rather than the behaviours that they possess. Fiona prompted us to think more about the characteristics being demonstrated. 

In my group, connection was what these leaders did, but how did they do it? With thought, I saw that the three stories shared above had illustrated leadership that was perceptive, persuasive, and astute.

From the long wishlist of attributes for leadership that emerged from the class, I noted three other traits that resonated with me; courage, intuition, and flexibility.

Being a leader

The next exercise saw the class split into two groups that were each set a challenge: to invent a test leadership problem that the other team would be required to solve. We were given 45 minutes, with one member of each group acting as an observer.

Fiona then lead a classroom discussion on the group dynamics that had appeared within each team during the exercise. The team members had an opportunity to share their observations, followed by the nominated observers. It was interesting to hear the class reflect on how leaders had emerged.

In both groups, the people that the group identified as leaders were those who spoke first. They were also the people who were first to pick up a pen to start recording the thoughts of the group. I found myself being labelled as a leader, but felt cheated that this was simply through a series of actions rather than any specific personal attributes that I held.

In the second half of this exercise each team received their problem, then worked to solve it while the other team observed. In both teams the leadership dynamic shifted from the first half of the exercise as those who had originally been labelled as leaders, myself included, made a conscious effort to avoid adopting the role again.

My most striking observation from the latter part of this exercise was that the environment in which we collaborate is very important.

The first team set up two lines of chairs that faced towards an individual at a flip chart who took notes. Communication between this group largely traveled back and forth from the single individual at the front of the room. The leader was the person who literally lead the discussion from the front.

The second team set up a circle of chairs so that everyone faced each other. Communication between this group was more collaborative, in that people felt they were speaking to each other instead of the note taker. A single leader was harder to identify, as many people had equal contributions to the conversation and conclusions of the team.

Growing a leader

We finished the tutorial with an opportunity to reflect on what we had learned. As we sat in silence I realised something that has been eluding me for months; why people have started to call me a leader. I have felt confused that, even though I haven't consciously changed anything about myself, this label had appeared.

This tutorial clearly demonstrated to me that people see leadership as actions. Speaking first. Taking the pen. To be seen as a leader, all you need to do is start doing. When you act like a leader, the label of leader naturally follows.

However, Fiona lead me to realise that it is the characteristics of a leader that distinguish good from bad. Our personal attributes are what separate a courageous action from a stupid one, an intuitive response from an indecipherable one, or a flexible plan from a fickle one.

To grow as a leader, I need to identify the personal attributes behind my leadership actions. It is those characteristics that I should look to develop further in order to feel truly comfortable in a leadership role.

1 comment:

  1. As a participant of the aforementioned workshop maybe my reply can help with your discovery.

    Another reflective, thoughtful and persuasive blog, Katrina.