People, Culture and Inclusion

Leadership: What happens when you are not there?


Leadership: What happens when you are not there?

coloured string wrapped together

Reflecting on how much time, by which I mean how little, I spend directly with my team (and I’m not just thinking about the pandemic, but before then too), it struck me that leadership can often be more about what happens in your absence than your presence. I was reminded of the quote by Ken Blanchard (the situational leadership guru) who claimed that “the test of your leadership is not what happens when you’re there, but what happens when you’re not there”.

The current focus on hybrid, remote and other different ways of working has led to a re-evaluation of how our working lives are structured. This can be both daunting and liberating as colleagues explore the right approach for how to do their best work. If teams need you as their leader to be present with them to do it, to be monitored and brought back on track, to tell them what to do and how to do it, then I believe that suggests a deficit of leadership. Instead, we need the lights to stay on whether you are next to them or not: no-one should be left peering in the dark, paralysed from taking take action or making a decision, or knowing what their priorities are. 

We don’t need to hoard our power, but share it.

However, it may not occur to you to share your power out, especially if you feel powerless yourself. Maybe your power is simply lying dormant. How can we recognise our power and feel comfortable with sharing it in a positive way? For me, it starts with being Transparent, encouraging Autonomy and being Open to others’ ideas (the “TAO” of leadership!). This means developing my team so they learn, experiment, and grow in their roles and are confident to step in and lead from wherever they are.  To build their instinct for making the right call when there’s no-one else to ask, to spot when something is going wrong and take swift action to put it right, including owning their mistakes, knowing I am fully confident they can sort it out. And I must role model this too by having the courage to share my own mistakes and shortcomings.

We need psychological safety and trust.

Of course, I help to raise eyes to the horizon and to connect people to the purpose of what we do, but then I try to get out the way and let people figure out what they need to do and how to do it.  Positive Performance Conversations offer a great structure to help them with this, (come on, you knew I was going to mention PPCs somewhere!), to work out what people already know and what they need to learn, then to help structure their roles and projects to maximise opportunities to stretch themselves.

My next plan to share my power is to pair up each team member with every other member to work on a shared objective, (I mean across the year, not simultaneously – I want to support their wellbeing not deplete it!).  This will help them learn more about each other’s capabilities and build a team ethos that everyone shares in.

So how do you lead when you’re not there?

Remember the TAO: Transparency, Autonomy, Openness to ideas. Start with one small thing and build from there. And ask them: how do we build our team so we can thrive, no matter what the future holds?

I’ve revealed my views on sharing power and you can see I think it is positive, but what do you think? This is the topic for our first Leadership Circle in November, with the provocation:

“By sharing our leadership power we are doing ourselves out of a job”

Do you agree? Disagree? Is that a good thing? Feel uncomfortable about letting go of some of your power across your team? Not sure why that would be helpful? Think it’s a great idea but don’t know where to start? Want to involve your team more but worry about resistance?

If you’d like to explore any of those questions further with us, come along to our November Leadership Circles where we will discuss the challenges and share best practices to ensure leadership happens, even when we’re not there.

Further details of the Leadership Circles format and dates are in our previous blog.

Additionally the resources below may help your thinking about building the team you want to lead and what happens when you’re not there:

Amanda Maclean, Head of People, Culture and Inclusion

Share this page:

Leave a Reply