Tensions of leadership

My experience of working in Community Development for many years means that I have developed a style of working ‘with people’ rather than for or above people. Even when I ran my own businesses I tried to work alongside people rather than take a dictatorial approach to leadership. This means that I use a lot of ‘we’ statements and I try to work with people’s strengths; where they are ‘at’ in their life journey. I also truly believe in the amazing capacity of people to learn, grow, develop, and consequently pull themselves up and out of tough situations to flourish. I believe in inherent human strength, resilience, and tenacity.

When we apply this style of leadership to business (including social enterprise) it can create difficulties, and therein lies the problem often found in managing and leading social enterprises. People are drawn to start up Soc’ Ents’ because they have a need and desire to create social impact, and these are often the people with inclusive styles. However, the tension arises, as I have found, when due to this inclusive way of working, somebody in the enterprise / business develops the belief that they are actually running it, or could do a better job than you. They want control. This can manifest in a myriad of ways from undermining the leader, to outright conflict, to mixed messages heard by staff.

Sometimes when we try to be inclusive we let a genie out of a bottle that is hard to get back in. This is our doing, and we either have to live with the consequences or, as my mentor’s in the private sector say ‘get rid of the problem’, ‘you’re the manager, take back control’, ‘move the problem out’ etc.

Easier said than done of course. And it begs the question should we as social entrepreneurs be less inclusive in our leadership style? Should we take a more controlling position and lead from the front? Be ruthless when someone undermines you? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to post comments on this page. I am doing a three day block on Leadership at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in two weeks time. I hope that this will help formulate my thinking more on leadership.


About stevewilliams1901

Social entrepreneur based in Australia.
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