Open, inclusive and sustainable leadership.

This blog post is very much a first draft — it’s the start of getting some stuff out of my head and I’ll keep iterating this, so bear with me. As always, curious to know if any of this resonates and what others think.

Last years leadership style buzzword was ‘transformative’. This years is ‘authentic’. I’ve been thinking about leadership more and more this year and think that future leadership styles will be open, inclusive and sustainable.

Across different organisations and sectors we’re moving away from the certain management styles/behaviours — the top down, hierarchical, closed communication and the ‘do as I say’ culture. That’s because organisations actually thrive when their people are given explicit permission and autonomy, create open spaces, can look horizontally, support and take part in peer-networks. It’s all part of moving towards a more open culture where we can better understand the problem we’re trying to solve, how it affects society and how we can work together to make things better.

Leadership should be for everyone. [The original title for this blog post was ‘why leadership matters for every role and every profession’]. It’s not just leading people, it’s leading policy, services, projects, tech development — even leading yourself through uncertainty and change. We need to start speaking and thinking about leadership in more inclusive ways and non-traditional forms. This is really important as we’re working in different ways and delivering products/services where the playbook has very rarely been written for us — so leadership has to come from everyone involved.

When I attend digital leadership/transformation conferences, I find that the people that energise and inspire me the most are the actual doers. I feel awful to admit this, but I’m getting fatigued from hearing the same buzzwords, or events that seem to only put CXOs on the stage. I want people who are actually delivering the thing to tell us what they are doing, what they are thinking and how it feels. But maybe we won’t get that in conferences, and that’s one of the reasons why we need unconferences and meetups — we just need to continue to bring new people into the latter?

And I keep thinking that this runs both ways, because the brilliant ideas discussed in unconferences/meetups then fall to the change maker (some of who don’t see themselves as being in positions of leadership/influence) to often single-handedly bring new ideas and approaches back into the organisation. This doesn’t feel very open, inclusive or sustainable to me.

Moving organisations towards open, inclusive and sustainable leadership is going to take time. Some of the ways I see this happening are:

  • running leadership programmes and initiatives that aren’t based on grade.
  • understanding if leadership schemes have any bias that favours applicants in a ‘people leadership’ role. For example (this is based on a recent conversation with a fellow FLS applicant) if you’re a technical architect who is brilliant with people and wants to move into a senior leadership role, but perhaps don’t manage a team at present, does the process/system go against you?
  • taking the ‘show the thing’ concept thats so well embedded in digital teams and bringing it into different professions/teams — particularly so that everyone can build their confidence in sharing their experiences in trusted environments.
  • organisations which include ‘open’ or ‘inclusive’ in their values should continuously ask their people what that really means to them. They should crowd-source practical actions on how employees can live those values, and understand what fear (if any) needs to be overcome with working in different ways.
  • building on ’s pair presenting idea, I want to see more CXOs on stage with the people in the teams who actually do the thing.
  • exploring the concept of stewardship in different roles — building in sustainability by design so that when someone moves on, their work doesn’t get hastily handed over with someone brand new in the space of a week (or worse still, in a handover note). I see this as a broader part of moving away from the ‘owner’ language that gets used, which I don’t think frames the responsibility in the right way.
  • taking the time to think about shared problems to solve across boundaries/in a pre-competitive space so those ‘wicked problems’ can start to be tackled, and [open] standards for a particular sector can emerge.
  • understanding what disempowers our people — because by tackling that we can foster a sense of leadership at all levels, which is crucial to becoming more open, inclusive, diverse and changing culture.

I don’t have a jazzy way of summarising/closing this blog post, because I don’t see this as the natural end point. There’s still a lot more I need to get out of my head and down on paper. I also want to think more about restructuring what I’ve written so it’s clustered better by the various themes I’ve rambled on about. Until next time! ❤

Design, leadership, open culture, data, ethics, justice. These are my personal thoughts on work.

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