Yesterday I went for a walk, got muddy and discovered that I knew nothing about leadership.
It’s been 8 months since I moved to Bristol to set up our office here.
It’s been great. I love the city, i’ve met tons of brilliant people and I’m learning a lot. But as is always the way, the more you learn - the more you realise you don’t know. So when opportunities pop up to do that learning outside, in the beautiful Mendips, with a bunch of interesting and equally knowledge-hungry individuals - you have to grab them.
One of those opportunities popped up yesterday.
Fresh Air Dave (aka Dave Stuart) runs The Fresh Air Learning Company. They take business people on outdoor journeys to help develop their thinking about a particular topic. There’s something about being outside, in the fresh air, walking together that helps to facilitate good conversations and meaningful exploration of ideas.
How does it work?
Well, you turn up, and as was necessary yesterday, get fully waterproofed, then start walking. Along the way, you talk amongst yourselves about the ideas you are hoping to explore and stop at predetermined points (usually with stunning views) to have a more structured discussion. Yesterday we were talking about leadership.
If i’m completely honest I had never really thought about leadership before yesterday. I don’t think of myself as a leader, I don’t have anyone to lead!
At this point you might be wondering, very reasonably, why I signed myself up for a leadership walk.
Well, I justified my attendance with the idea that one day I will be a leader, and on that day, people will look to me for leadership, so why not start learning how to do it now?
But rather than teaching me how to lead, I found that the walk opened my eyes to just how little I knew about it. Leadership is not just about telling people what to do, it turns out leadership is complex. There are many different styles of leadership, almost all of which I had never heard of before; servant leadership and distributed leadership to name a few. I learned that the styles used should be tailored to both the people you are leading and the objectives you are trying to reach, and they are not fixed - they can change as the other factors change.
Somewhere between stunning viewpoint one and stunning viewpoint two, I started to think about what we were discussing in the context of my own experiences. My day-to-day experience of leadership has changed dramatically since moving to Bristol. Going from a setup where your whole team sits around one table (as they do in the Chester office) and your leaders are always within nudging distance, to being 160 miles away is a big change (of course, I’m not completely cut off, I am fully capable of picking up the phone or writing a Slack message - but it’s not the same).
Being more independent immediately places a lot more pressure on the leadership arrangement and quickly reveals areas for improvement. As the day went on I realised that identifying those areas should be the responsibility of both parties, and that learning about leadership is beneficial for everyone involved - both the leaders and those being lead.
We’re all different, and we will all respond to leadership styles differently, but the leadership style used can’t just be defined by individual personal preference. The needs of the business might dictate a certain style of leadership for the purposes of a specific objective.
Understanding this, and understanding what your role is within that style of leadership should lead to a more effective team.
So, what next? Well i’ve got a lot of reading up on leadership styles to do. I want to look in to what might work best for my arrangement here in Bristol. I came away from yesterday with several ideas of where to start looking
But for now, I’m grateful to have had my eyes opened to the realisation that it is never too early to learn how to be a leader.