Blog

The latest insights on narrative, storytelling and leadership in higher education.

The time to act is now: Embracing the leader within

By

In the frame of Black Lives Matter, is it time to find more fundamental ways to open our hearts and minds to greater humility, humanity and bravery in building our cultures at work?

Undoubtedly, yes. But who should we look to, to unlock this potential?

There’s a subdued frisson in the air. That ‘back to school’ feeling. September is around the corner. On our minds will be a whole stack of processes. Things to prepare, things that must happen before x date, meetings to arrange around holidays, plans to be actioned…

I want to borrow you from this place for a moment, a place of process. I’d like you to follow me, zooming out, into a place that’s about purpose: Why we’re here in the first place, doing what we do.

We need to move on from a world where power and leadership belong only to the few”

So, we’re standing on the brink of a new academic year. And with new beginnings, there’s a chance to examine our reality, past and present: the decisions we make, the way that we work, and the way that we connect with others. In the frame of the Black Lives Matter movement, this summer has been a catalyst to disrupt our status quo. We need to move on from a world where power and leadership belong only to the few – whether that’s practically, psychologically or emotionally.

What’s been revealed is something that we know to be true, but perhaps we don’t prioritise enough. That as human beings we all need to be heard, to be seen, to be understood, if not valued.  

The case for emotionally intelligent leadership and all that comes with this is at its zenith. Now is when we need to find ways to further open up our hearts and minds to find greater humility, humanity and bravery in ourselves, and unlock this in others.

Who, me?

One of our own tenets at Invisible Grail is that everyone leads. I remember accepting this (I even helped draft it), but I don’t think I really lived it. A leader could be anybody, but it was someone at the top. Someone with political power. Influence. Clout. Someone who was ‘strategic’. Someone above. Not within. 

We can’t wait for someone to tell us what’s right, and what needs doing.”

I’ve since realised I was wrong. And perhaps this is the crux of it. We’re all leaders because we’re all human. A leader is anyone who influences and nurtures others. In the context of contributing to an emotionally intelligent culture, we all have a role to play. We can’t wait for someone to tell us what’s right, and what needs doing.

After all, we all work with others in some way or another. We bring our own emotions and attitudes to work – one awful commute and we’re irritable. On another day, we’re determined. Whatever our mindset, this will shape how we hear people, whether we see them, to what extent we seek to understand them, and how we help the people around us to feel valued.

We’re allowed to have a bad day of course. I’m certain that no one has a Tigger-like bounce 365 days of a year. Part of embracing emotional intelligence is stepping into someone else’s shoes. The wiggle room to be wrong, to be fallible – to be human. The more we can put humanity at the heart of how we work, the more we encourage others to try this too.

How do we do it?

You’re not just saying you try; you’re trying.”

Consistency over intensity, to borrow a phrase from Simon Sinek. Showing up every day with an intention to hear, see, understand and value the people you work with. Consistency builds trust. You’re not just saying you try; you’re trying.

Questions. Lots of them, open ones. We won’t always agree with others, we probably won’t understand them at times either. But if we can be curious, then we show our intent to try to understand rather than ignore. If, like me, questions sometimes feel unsettling (you don’t know what to expect, you can’t prepare, you’re opening up something you want to control…), it’s simply practice (and consistency.)

Ultimately though, it’s love. That puts people – in all our messy but astonishing abilities – before process. In a piece of research by Helena Clayton, love was characterised by these elements: care, really hearing others and seeing them for who they are, empathy and compassion, holding ourselves accountable and having difficult conversations, but ones that matter.

Back to that brink…

What decisions will you make this year that are different from before?”

We’re on the edge of a new academic year. There’s lots to do. But before process surrounds you, find room to ask yourself: what decisions will you make this year that are different from before? Is there room for even more humanity in what you do at work? And how can you share this with others?

Photo by Natalya Letunova on Unsplash

By Louise Clifton

If you enjoyed this blog you might also like: