With so many buzz words around leadership floating around at the moment, it can be hard to make sense of it all. Servant leadership, authentic leadership, transformational leadership. The question of what is leadership in 2021 is in a state of flux.
One starting point for understanding the requirements of leadership today is to look at the lessons of the past. Many of the seminal works on leadership that still hold sway are products of a different era and their outdated notions of ‘fake it ’til you make it’, ‘bring me solutions not problems’ ring a little off to today’s ears. The single minded, driven and charismatic, but often ‘marmite’ style leader now appears out of touch.
What is emerging is the age of nuanced leadership – subtle, clever, values-led and often intensely emotionally intelligent, democratic and flexible. Today’s leadership is about understanding our orbit. It is recognising that leadership happens in every micro-decision we make and extends to every large piece of strategy we influence. Orbital leaders go beyond attempts to control, push, pull, insist, force and demand that their organisations arrange itself into a shape that fits their leaders’ paradigm. They go beyond even having an awareness that their behaviour has an impact that may be different to their intention.
The mindset of the leader in today’s organisation bears most scrutiny. As recently as this year I have heard language which refers to ‘playing the game’ and to ‘doing what it takes to get what you want’. These sentiments suggest there is a need to act, or to represent ourselves differently in order to get desired results. The challenge for today’s leaders is to be both authentic in how we show up, and at the same time, to be sensitive to our environment. The skilled orbital leader has a deep understanding of the impact they have at all points of their ‘galaxy’ and is able to adapt and flex their approach to take in the needs of those in their orbit. To become an Orbital Leader you should consider the following:
Know who is in your orbit
None of us operate in a vacuum and it can be helpful to understand the breadth of our impact. Often as leaders we think in terms of verticals ‘ we lead those in our reporting line (below us) and we manage upwards. Rarely do we consider the leadership that is needed laterally with our peers, stakeholders, and clients. Take a piece of paper and some coloured pens and have a go at mapping out your professional galaxy.
Know whom you are orbiting
Several key players in our galaxy will have us in their ‘orbit’ and it’s important to recognise that we are liable to be impacted by the weather system on their planet. Being aware of this when it happens and making a conscious choice in how we respond might well be the difference between there being a knock-on disturbance in our own galaxy and not.
Challenge yourself to be authentic
If you find yourself occupying the mindset of playing a game, consider why that is and what would need to change for you to feel less of a need to operate in that way. We all co-create the environments that we exist within and an honest starting point is in understanding what part your leadership has played in being complicit in an inauthentic culture
Challenge yourself to be sensitive
If you find yourself working from a mindset of ‘telling your truth’ no matter how damaging the impact on your orbit might be, ask yourself how this is truly serving you, your team and the organisation you lead. This kind of application of mental brakes might be a little unusual at first, but developing the muscle memory that allows you to check yourself will eventually mean that thinking patterns follow suit.
Keep Macro and Micro in sight
Orbital leaders have the ability to think on a massive strategic scale and to understand the delicate and nuanced detail that contributes to the bigger picture. This isn’t about a binary, either/or way of operating ‘ it’s looking at the sun setting on the horizon and whilst feeling every grain of sand under your feet at the same time.