On a Well-Rounded Leadership Style

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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.

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A Radical Perspective on Leadership

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I often tell my team at the Children’s Creativity Museum that everyone is a leader, and although my own personal leadership style continues to evolve to live up to this ideal, I know that my leadership is strongest when I rely on the wisdom of my team.

How we think about leadership shapes how we approach its presence and development in our lives. Behind our predominant economic model and our political structure is the very tricky idea that for there to be leaders, there have to be followers. A divide is created between those who are so-called “followers” and those who lead. An assumption is made about the capacity of others to make a difference.

How would we approach our leadership development differently if we came from the place that every single person has a contribution to make to the improvement of this world?

Rather than people being the cogs in the business machine, what if instead they each play a critical part in finding the best possible solution given the resource constraints?

 

The Priorities Triangle

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I was recently talking with the teens I mentor at the Children’s Creativity Museum. They were expressing concern about how they were going to stay focused on studies, friendships, family, etc., with all of the different things they expected to compete for their time and attention in college. I reassured them that getting clear about priorities was something they would always confront.

Some leadership experts, like Bill George, speak about a values compass, being clear about the intangible yet important beliefs that shape how we look at the world. For example, if one is committed to Compassion, how are you helping to relieve the suffering of another?

This was a bit too abstract for my teens. So I shared with them the “Priorities Triangle.” The triangle is considered a “power symbol,” because it is based on the number 3. A tripod is solid when its legs are spread out as a triangle. I asked my teens to consider the following question:

What are your top 3 priorities in life?

What would you say are the non-negotiables of your life? What are the things that you, for sure, would not ever let drop? Family? Best friends? God? Volunteerism?

By assessing how we invest our time and energy against these top 3 priorities, we get a better sense of whether or not we are making choices that prioritize what matters most to us.