Leadership is the best of you, visible and heard…

November 11, 2012

There will be nothing new here, read quickly and move on.

At least that is what I think whenever I see the word “leadership” in the title to an article or book. How could there be anything new, it must be the most hacked about, cliché riddled and platitudinous subject ever written about – the Mills and Boon of the consulting world.

So having failed to sell you the concept (!) let me try to confound myself.

The work I do that gives me the most pleasure and for which I often see immediate pay back is mentoring. I’m not a coach; I have not been trained to coach, but I can mentor. Mentoring however is one of those words that can disguise its meaning, so the one thing potential clients are most interested to know is “what exactly will you do with me?”

I will listen, I will discuss with you what I hear you say; and with your permission we will gently challenge the authenticity of your words. Over time we will find a tone and a voice that is authentically you at your best. Once we have started to move in this direction I will keep listening so that I keep hearing your authentic voice.

I have chosen each word deliberately. There is no formula, no “Gilbert model” and no daft hocus. This isn’t cabaret, no trite New-Age nonsense either. This is serious. There must be a space to hear and time to listen; and there must also be permission to challenge. In the end however that is all there is and, frankly, all that is needed for the client to realise what they have to do to fulfil their ambitions.

I tend to work with lawyers, though not always, and a lawyer’s bull-shit antennae are well developed; so it has to be authentic. No pretending, no noise, no deflecting. So what happens?

Honestly, sometimes nothing; but more often than not something happens that I absolutely love. Clients become leaders.

This is not about status, power, position or titles. It really does not matter if the client is a junior lawyer, a law firm partner, a General Counsel or a trainee. Leadership is for everyone and it starts with being aware of and comfortable with our core values; not in a nodding-acquaintance kind of way, but fully engaged with what our values mean and say about us. What is at our core? What do we stand for? What makes us human?

We must then find our voice – sometimes quite literally.

This is not easy, although I am not talking about stirring oratory or fine words that could move a nation. This is not leadership, this is more about presentation. What I am talking about is ensuring we create opportunities (and take advantage of opportunities others create for us) where we articulate what our values mean in the contexts we find ourselves in.

For me this is the essence of leadership – to be aware of the space we are in, to have listened well and then to speak authentically, whatever our role.

To be true to what we stand for, respectful of all views, but unafraid to be heard is to reach beyond ourselves and to pull our frailty, insecurity and weakness into view. It isn’t something we feel comfortable to do, but it is something we are all capable of doing.

Mentoring is the construct where we can build some resilience for these steps to be taken. When the client gives permission for challenge they in effect start to build the resilience they need. It is all their own work and more powerful as a result.

The client comes to terms with what makes them the person they are, they give a voice to their authentic values and they start to live more in the present, alive to possibility, but always cognisant of context. In short the client amplifies the leader they have always been.

Does this mean riches, power and position will follow? No it does not. Leadership is not about those things. Riches, power and position are there for some people who want these things, and there is obviously some correlation with a certain type of leader; but leadership is much more profound and more real than just these things.

Leadership is the best of you, visible and heard and in my experience once a client finds they can do this they never, ever, want to go back.

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