One of the things that trips us up about leadership, is wanting our leaders to have the answers. We demand it, and so the story in our heads goes, ‘ hold on, if I am a good leader, I too should have the answers’. That story insists on a mindset that is certain, that believes it holds the truth.
If you want to make a difference, do these three things:
- know what it is that is most important to you,
- take action from where you are,
- and keep your focus on the most important thing, even if at first you are not successful.
Recently my partner and I were overseas on a small island off Lombok, and while struck by its beauty, we were also aware of the piles of rubbish- shoes, plastic, fishing nets, medical supplies piled up on the beaches.
I was concerned, and dived to tug a plastic bag from the coral, however that’s where my rubbish removal stopped. It was not the most important thing to me.
In the Women in Leadership Forum, as we explore leadership, we are noticing what a difference it makes when we start to recognise what is important, and work out what we can do, from where we are.
Women are sharing stories of action they are taking in their field of influence. It’s about attending to that internal voice, making a conscious decision to take action and moving forward, a step at a time.
The reason I told the story about my lack of intention to clear rubbish, was that I recently read the sory of Afroz Shah of Mumbai. Afroz decided that cleaning his beach of rubbish was the most important thing. He didn’t wait for someone in authority to begin the work. He decided to make a difference and with an 82 yr old friend, began slowly clearing the beach by hand.
Within a month they were joined by 40 volunteers, and in 6 months a volunteer body had been formed. Then as awareness grew, civic officials provided amenities like excavator machines, trucks and workers. 4,500 tonnes of rubbish was removed over 69 weeks.
There was no authority and no plan. Afroz started with a strong intention, and a mate, and slowly he made a difference.
Like Afroz, we might start in a small way. After a while others might join us, and our power to make a difference grows.
The discipline and practice is to keep remembering the most important thing, to take action from where we are and to get out of our own way.
I was watching a film on the weekend that I found compelling - ‘Arrival’ (2016) Paramount Pictures. The hero was a woman, Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistic expert who finds herself in a potential doomsday situation, as she attempts to communicate with the aliens who have landed in 12 places around the world. Earth forces are panicking and want to attack; Louise is racing against time to show something else may be possible.
Her leadership was inspiring and totally unconventional. Brought in by the army, she had no position of authority and was under a lot of pressure from the men in uniform to conform to their way of working and thinking about the aliens as a threat. Not prepared to give the easy answers, and working in a soft yet determined way, Louise was courageous about what she considered important. She backed herself and took some risk. And from that place exerted powerful influence and humanity. The person she led primarily was herself.
I used this story to introduce the Women in Leadership Forums.
My intention in the forums is that in our discussions we start to connect to a more empowering understanding of leadership, a leadership of influence, inspiring change and enabling people to flourish. A leadership that springs from what we consider to be important.
To do that, we need to recognize the ideas of leadership that hold us back, the ones that often we have found it hard to identify with, and so have doubted our leadership capacity: the ones where we are meant to have all the answers, our title has a 'boss-like' quality, and where our followers fall in line. With those running in our heads, we can never measure up and are left feeling like imposters.
The freedom and the challenge comes with letting go these ideas, and determining what is truly important. For the women in the forum that will start by exploring key values, and choosing which to demonstrate more fully in their lives.
For many of the women it is deciding to make a difference.
By exploring and stepping more into what we value, like Amy’s character, we are in a more powerful position to influence and lead- whatever our position in an organisation.