As someone stepping into the CEO role for a nonprofit organization for the first time, it has been quite the developmental journey to embrace a leadership style that works for the creative and collaborative culture of the Children’s Creativity Museum. My understandings of who I am and who I need to be as a leader for the organization have evolved over the fast-paced and packed year that I’ve officially held the role.
A recent realization that is providing me a lot of peace of mind is that I don’t actually have to choose one particular leadership style. Sure, my staff wants consistency, AND adaptive leadership requires that we have an array of leadership styles into which we can tap in order to respond to a changing world. I can be authoritative and make solid decisions, AND I can be collaborative in thinking through a project. I can feel like I’m alone at the top, AND I can consciously connect with my support network.
It’s like shifting gears. When I am going uphill, I can kick it up a notch. And when I’m on the highway, I can cruise.
The choice in leadership style, then, becomes not about who I need to be forever-and-ever-amen, but rather what is required of me in a given situation.
John Kotter’s classic, Leading Change, makes a powerful distinction between management and leadership. Kotter says that management is focused on the effective maintenance of the status quo, i.e. they keep things going. In contrast, leadership is about a vision for the future; it is about moving things in a new direction.
Every organization needs both types: competent managers and effective leaders. Most human resource programs focus on management programs. Many confuse leadership development with management programs.
How are we building leader-ful organizations?
How are we ensuring that we can sustain organizations and keep them adaptive enough to a rapidly changing world?
In many ways, being an effective leader involves being able to dance with change. This is difficult when the predominant stereotype of the strong leader is one who is a bulwark against change: A strong and effective leader is one who controls such that changes are minimized, if not eliminated.
The problem is that that is not reality. Change is reality. Change is what happens, regardless of what a leader chooses to do. The best that s/he can do it to adapt to change in every moment, to roll with the proverbial punches.
Thus, a crucial and necessary stepping stone in the leadership development journey is to transform our relationship to change. We must embrace that change cannot be managed out but rather can be the access to transformation.
A mantra, or set of aspirational statements, which I’ve been practicing the past few weeks is below: