Leadership – Will They Follow?
This will likely be more in the form of story-telling but it does offer some insights into ideals that have guided my own leadership development journey.
There are courses, books, blogs and countless websites that all talk about how to develop leadership. To me, the best way to develop leadership is to put yourself into positions where you will need to exert leadership but it is not a work role!
I will speak of two of my more formative experiences and I believe they both follow the same theme. That theme is to give and to be in a leadership role without the impact or influence of a “boss card”.
My first experience came when I was a recent university graduate and I was coaxed into helping a friend and my brother coach the women’s hockey club at a university. The club members were torch bearers, they were trying to lead the way to gain varsity status for more women’s sports in areas that were typically regarded as male sports. I did not have an extensive hockey background beyond being an avid fan. I had no coaching experience. But after a year both other co-coaches left and I was alone in trying to run the program. I got fortunate in being able to recruit an assistant coach who was a tremendous asset but I learned so much throughout this time period.
The essence of my learning was that leading volunteers and trying to encourage them to come out for the scraps of available practice ice time (ugly early mornings), no league to play in (we arranged our own exhibition schedule) and being generally over-matched when playing the handful of varsity women’s teams that were out there was all extremely difficult. You could not be the “tough coach” or be too full of yourself or you would quickly find yourself without a team to coach! To make it an experience that would convince the players to continue to come out in very difficult circumstances meant that you had to give them a sense of purpose and to try to inspire them to work hard to fulfill that purpose in spite of the many obstacles.
The victories were few and far between but the experience was extremely worth while.
A more recent example that is in an extremely different world but offers remarkably similar experiences is in a current hobby of mine. To many this sound bizarre, but I do military re-enacting around the War of 1812 time period. I always enjoyed history and as I discovered re-enacting I found it gave me a way to learn about history in an experiential fashion, it gave me an opportunity to teach and bring history alive to the general public and it was a great means to commemorate the service of those who were in Canada 200+ years ago. Little did I know that it was going to be another leadership laboratory.
When I joined, I just wanted to be “one of the guys”. I had lots of responsibility in my work life and so on my own time, I did not want more. Unfortunately, in volunteer groups, clubs, teams, etc. people are happy to be a member but few have the desire or the ability to lead. You learn a lot about your leadership style when those that you lead can vote with their feet and choose whether or not they are going to come out. Especially if coming out means extreme heat in wool uniforms, sleeping on the ground in leaky canvas tents or doing long marches in foot wear patterned after 200-year-old boots.
It is good to give back to your community and volunteer. If there is a need or opportunity to help on the executive or lead a committee, jump all over it. It is a tremendous opportunity to grow and develop! You will be doing good work and you will continue to build your leadership style.
The moment of truth is to put yourself at the head of the column, not being able to see what is happening behind you, shouting “march” and hoping they follow you.