— by Valentine McKay-Riddell, Ph.D.
1. Pay attention to what’s going on around you; this is the first, and probably most important trait. A leader needs to be aware, not just of what people are saying, but the atmosphere in the room, the messages between the lines, what needs to be said but isn’t being said until someone blows up and blurts it out. If you are not paying attention you are not going to be able to respond to anything that happens.
2. Be flexible. Let yourself think on your feet and change direction on a moment’s notice. Say you have a meeting all set up, the agenda planned, ten people get together, and before you can start someone says, “We have to talk about what happened last week.” You can see that you can’t get past “go” until you respond to that person. And perhaps you need to be able to weave that issue into your meeting. This is why I most often do a check-in at the beginning of meetings or even classes, because sometimes the check-in becomes the topic. Trust, going with the flow, is something I think is really important, but often people who are accustomed to leading find this hard to do.
3. Show appreciation – this is huge. Sometimes when someone butts in and tries to take over a group meeting, one way to regain control is to notice that person, notice that what is really being expressed is their frustrated leadership ability. You can find ways to draw out their experience and abilities, to validate them, without losing control in a meeting. For example, you might say, “Heather, I can see that you have experience with doing this in the past; would you research how we can get this done and come back to the next meeting with your recommendations?”
4. Take a holistic perspective – realize that everything is connected, everything is going to be affected by everything else. The energy of everyone in the room, the things spoken and unspoken, the weather, the things going on in people’s personal lives and your own stuff, and even larger influences, like world events – all of these things impact ourselves, our groups, our entire communities. To pretend they do not is simply denial. Take into account the grief people may be feeling about a school shooting, the excitement of an upcoming game or concert, or apprehension about a decision that must be made.
5. Combine openness, transparency, and trust. If you are willing to trust that the best and highest good is what you want to have happen, and until proven otherwise that’s what everyone else wants, then you can afford to be transparent. It’s been proven time and again that things work so much more effectively if people feel they have a personal stake in creating what’s going on. A leader’s example of openness goes a long way to drawing in the commitment of others to a group project.
Valentine McKay-Riddell has a lifetime of experience with using and sharing leadership in order to achieve change for good.