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I was talking to my boss the other day about leadership as a state of mind. It started as he was reading a book in which there’s this quote: “Management is what you do. Leadership is who you are.”
It got me to think that not everyone can be a manager but anyone can be a leader. In development work, there might be a project manager overseeing the whole project, but the stakeholders, especially the beneficiaries and communities, have to be leaders, to take control of their own projects.
And to me, I think that is vital to any development projects. The project has already succeeded 50% if it can involve the communities. Because at the end, development workers will leave, and the communities will stay and continue the work.
It is detrimental if the communities depend too much on development agencies or development aids. And I have seen amazing results when the communities get engaged in their project and take the lead.
But I am wondering, what really nurtures the state of leadership, what can bring out the leader in even the most vulnerable people and communities.
Over the years working, I have seen and experienced many leadership styles in both corporate and NGO environment. I come to realize that a good leader is one that is not only responsible, taking risks and initiatives but also one that knows when to lead and when to draw back, listen and let others lead. They are firm decision makers but are sensitive, thoughtful and with high emotional intelligence.
When managing a team, I learn the most when I have to deal with conflicts. It is not about saying who is right, who is wrong, it is about finding a compromising solution, handling different personalities in the right way. Of course, work is work and you need to find the best solution. Yet the people you are working with are just as important.
So what really nurtures the state of leadership? I think, perhaps, it is trust and compassion. When you trust someone with your project and your work, when you believe in their ability to do it, they will have a heightened sense of responsibility, they feel valued and respected.
When you treat someone with compassion, mutual understanding, they will become kinder, more thoughtful and compassionate. I know it might sound like it has nothing to do with leadership. Yet just think about it.
I have met farmers, who lead a simple modest life, yet they show great leadership quality. Not only are they passionate about their work, but also they take charge of it. But I also have met leaders of NGOs or companies, but I think it is more appropriate to call them dictators (yes I am using this word), as they only want others to obey to them, do whatever they say as they think they know best. You being in a managerial position doesn’t make you a leader.
After all, you don’t need to go anywhere, work in huge companies, etc. to become a leader. You are already a leader, leader of your life. The states you are in, everything about you and your life, you are in charge of it. Either you lead your life, or you just survive.