Leadership: why it’s OK to not be one

Here’s the thing about being a leader; most people want to be one. Here’s another thing, I am willing to bet my house that the majority of those in leadership wish they weren’t or are doing it for the wrong reasons.

In 2023, leadership can no longer be about telling people what to do. With a cross generational workforce ranging from Boomers II to Generation Z, leadership styles need to be flexible to meet the professional, and at times, personal needs of employees. Those who are unable to bend, risk losing staff and costing their organisation unnecessary time and money in recruitment.

From experience, I have witnessed many leaders failing to grasp that they set the tone and enhance a workplace’s culture. Once upon a time, colleagues and I played dodgeball as we tiptoed past a former head of our dept as this person sat sulking at their desk. It didn’t matter that staff may have needed their input to respond to a crisis, they were in a bad mood and that was it. Except, this behaviour isn’t right. Of course, those in leadership are entitled to have feelings, after all we’re human. But, at this stage of one’s career, it’s your responsibility to manage them. No one has time to be dodging mood swings, yet so many ‘leaders’ fail to understand this.

Leadership should not be done alone. No one has all the answers. Great leaders have a team around them, allies who believe in their vision.

Post pandemic, more organisations are adapting the why they function. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about 61 UK businesses partaking in a four-day working week trail in which a large majority saw a “sharp drop in worker turnover and absenteeism while largely maintaining productivity.” This same progressive thinking must also be adapted by those in senior leadership.

Along with flexibility, today’s leaders must be bold enough to be held accountable. We all make mistakes, but a true leader owns theirs. Doing so is not only admirable, but it sets a standard for others to follow. Leadership is taking responsibility, even if that means counting the number of bubbles frothing at the mouth of your CEO as they go full Incredible Hulk. Unfortunately, I can count on one hand the number of senior managers who have solely shouldered their mistakes. I’ll never forget a female leader, whose oversight led to a major crisis that saw the CEO featured in a tabloid newspaper. Instead of hiding at home, she chose to sit outside her boss’ office everyday, until she rewrote her wrongdoing right. That is leadership. And as a woman, where our ability to lead are often questioned one too many times, she silently told her peers she was strong enough to own her mistakes.

Leadership is not for the fainthearted; and neither should it be. You are often placed at the eye of multiple storms and stakeholders rely on you to guide them out. Yet, leadership should not be done alone. No one has all the answers. Great leaders have a team around them, allies who believe in their vision. They encourage others to shine, confident that future leaders are simply walking in their shadow. Leadership is not about a job title. In fact, it begins with one-self. A willingness to be empathic, flexible, evolving, visionary and most importantly have humility. If you’re willing to be all those things, then please step forward, your country (and organisations) needs you.

Desiree Weston is Strategic Communications Manager at Westminster City Council and a 2023 LGcomms Future Leader


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