“We are constantly invited to be who we are.”
(Henry David Thoreau)
Much of ‘leadership development’ seems to centre on crafting a ‘message’ that is delivered using practiced skills designed to give an impression of presence and charisma. Executives are schooled by media-savvy coaches, actors, TV presenters and news camera crews. A pause for impact here, a glance to camera just there and now drop the voice to a stage whisper before raising it again for the ‘killer line’…
Jim is a teacher and leader in a school for students with complex and specialist needs. We met with his colleagues in the Derbyshire hills at the field centre where he spends his days.
As he settled in front of my camera and I adjusted the sound levels, Jim confessed to nerves and that he didn’t have a clue what he would say.
I was grateful that this would not be a crafted, practiced, media-trained delivery.
After a few moments of slowly checking in with each other, Jim began to speak about what good leadership looks like. He told me of his attempts to role-model behaviour and his sense of who we should be as much as what we should do. His words were unprompted and unrehearsed yet lucid and profound. His colleagues witnessed him simply expressing a truth that he had come to know; a strong, principled but deeply caring perspective on leadership. A stripped back, raw version of leadership that requires no artificial polish or shine. As the rest of the management team came to the camera, they each spoke with the same sense of truth and conviction.
Presence, care and profound humility cannot be schooled, copied or rehearsed during a day of presentation skills training.
Instead, we might reflect carefully on who we are as join in relationship and community; true leadership arises through a clear sense of self and finding the capacity to genuinely see others.
It’s not an act.