Leadership is about opening the heart

26 Oct 2016

"Leadership is not so much about techniques and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration - of oneself and of others" - Lance Secretan

We are finding ourselves in the middle of global leadership change, and whilst it is not my place to get into the political debate of who should lead what, it has made me reflect on others I know who lead teams or just seem to have that innate leadership. 

What is it about some people that while we cannot immediately see their leadership qualities, we feel confident that they are the right person to be in charge, and while change may take time, when we look back we realise that someone's leadership by example has effective more lasting change than someone else who has a strategy, a clearly defined vision, and a plan they intend to stick to at all costs.

How does that translate in reality? There was a time when boundaries in social care meant that staff were almost scared to join users of services in the same area for lunch, for example. Teachers would scurry off to the staff room to avoid the children. Nurses would give no hint of their family life but wanted to know all about yours. There was definite 'client' time and their training shouted keep away the rest of the time. 

And then there has been a sea change, not through any training changes or great thinking but more through leaders coming to the forefront and trying to create a better outcome for those they care about. Through a greater sense of community we start to see people who understand that a more informal approach helps get the results quicker and that by creating those informal networks we actually spread the load of supporting community members making our jobs easier rather than harder.

My first real introduction was my daughter's move to 6 form college where, to her astonishment, the Head queued up with pupils at lunchtime for her own lunch in the canteen.  She was astounded not just to see her as part of the school community but also that she did not push in, treating and demonstrating to her pupils that respect that communities pay to each other.

What has changed with the introduction of campuses of Jewish Care is to see staff, volunteers and people using our facilities together, all queuing and sitting having lunch together - reflecting a way a community works and flourishes. Seeing the support each gives the other, and I do mean each, as those working there learn so much about life from those amazing characters who are so free in sharing their lives.

And why does it work? Only some of us know who the leaders are in the organisation, but the simple acts of life seem to filter through and I really believe are not lost on their team members. None of us are above showing humanity to another.

For me, reflecting on these questions has shown something like a eureka moment. We can write strategies and plans, we can keep referring back to the plan, but if those who are trying to follow or even embrace the vision see no flexibility in their leader and no role modelling of what the end goal looks like, the vision gets not just lost but alienates those we hope to take with us.

Hillel said, 'Do unto others as you would have them done unto you.' - he was not just looking at the global, I believe he understood that the small things can, step by step, change the world - the leader who opens his or her heart can open the heart of others. Next time I look at a potential global leader I will try to find the small examples that speak to me.