'The Inside Track' Programme materials and resources
Appendix 2: ‘The Inside Track’ Approach to Leadership
Here, we take the themes from throughout 'The Inside Track' and apply them to leadership roles in the workplace and in the community.
Background: brief history of leadership theory
Let’s start with a short definition of leadership: it’s about co-ordinating resources and motivating a group of people to achieve an agreed common vision or goal. So far, so good. However, how to be the most effective leader is an area of great contention, and has been the subject of much research and theorising throughout history. Here’s a very brief – and selective – look at the evolution of leadership theory over the past two centuries.
Hero/Trait Theories: The leader is a hero who is born with the necessary inspirational and visionary traits including – among others – drive, self-confidence, ability to influence others, originality, and persistence. In other words, you can’t learn to become a great leader: either you are one or you’re not.
Bevahourial Theory: The heroic theory was challenged by research showing that certain prescribed traits were absolutely no guarantee for effective leadership. So people started to look instead at the behaviours of effective leaders. This was a big shift, as it meant that it might be possible to learn how to be a good leader.
Contingency Theory: The first two theories were criticised for not taking full account of the context – who’s being led, the kind of organisation etc. And so it’s much more helpful to look at the very particular context the leader is operating in, and to identify the sets of both traits and behaviours that are appropriate to it.
Transformational Theory: A common thread in the theories above is a ‘transactional’ approach, where the leader gets others to comply through rewards and punishments. In opposition to this, the transformational model of the 1970s says that the leader is a role model who inspires others through the strength of their moral vision and personality.
And now? New leadership theories are continuing to be developed. They build on various aspects of the theories above, and take into account theories and findings from current social, economic and neuroscientific research.
The Inside Track Approach
‘The Inside Track’ approaches leadership from a radically different starting point: sometimes the very effort of striving to become an effective leader is precisely what can stop you from naturally becoming one. That’s because the stress and pressure that come with striving can prevent your mind from functioning at its natural, relaxed best – when you can think and plan clearly, communicate effectively and build strong relationships with others. These are the true components of effective leadership.
This approach is based on the ‘discovery’ model of human nature and learning. This says that the best way to grow and develop is to reconnect with our natural human qualities, rather than solely accumulating more knowledge or becoming a ‘better’ person. Leadership is a core component of these natural human qualities – the process of growing up is about learning to lead ourselves. After all, we talk about ‘leading our lives’. Leading others is simply a natural extension of this.
To reconnect with these natural human qualities – especially those required for leadership roles – you can take yourself through the following process, which incorporates some of the same exercises set out previously
Step 1: Letting go of unhelpful conditioned beliefs
Notice and write down any limiting beliefs about your ability to carry out your leadership role
Use mindfulness-based techniques to loosen the grip of these beliefs: watch them come and go, knowing that they are just thoughts, not the absolute truth.
Step 2: Reconnect with your natural qualities and capacities
Having started to let go of limiting thoughts and beliefs, the path is clearer for some deeper truths about your natural leadership qualities and capacities.
The key step is to recall experiences of achievement from any time in your life, and then to reflect on what these tell you about your values, passions, and strengths. When doing this in a leadership context, it’s good to focus particularly on experiences where you were working with others, particularly in some kind of leadership capacity, even if that was only informal or implicit. Capture your answers, using this format.
Step 3: Identify essential traits/tasks and next steps for development
Start by listing the traits or tasks that are essential for your leadership role. Make sure they are genuinely necessary, and not based on some idealised and unrealistic version of the perfect leader.
Spend a moment reflecting on what step 2 has revealed about your natural qualities and capacities in relation to these traits or tasks.
Based on these reflections, generate some practical SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timed) next steps to develop in these traits/tasks. Capture your answers, using this format.
Step 4. Defining your unique leadership style: write all the essential traits/tasks from step 3, dividing them into two roughly equal lists of those that do and don’t come easily to you. Capture your answers, using this format:
Referring to this, and to the values, passions and strengths you captured in step 2, write a short statement in your workbook that captures the essence of who you really are and can be as a leader, including full recognition of your natural strengths and areas for development. Without prescribing the exact format you use, it might look something like the following: Based on my natural strengths of………the particular way I can best approach leadership is by……..I’m aware that what doesn’t come so easily to me is….and so my intention for developing as much as necessary in these areas is by…
Repeating the True Leader’s process
Human development is an iterative process: we learn and grow in stages – processing and integrating new insights and skills at one level before we’re ready to move on to the next. Often we reach a kind of plateau which we’re comfortable plodding along for a while, in preparation for the next big mountain climb.
As you progress on your leadership journey, you may well find exactly this cycle in operation. The challenges of your role will often provide the impetus for periods of conscious development of new skills or attitudes. Next, it’s about getting confident in applying what you’re learning. And then for a period you may enjoy relaxing into your new-found skills and confidence, without having to consciously make them happen. After a while at this stage, you may then start to feel the itch for new learning – or indeed your job may present the need for it whether you’re ready or not! Either way, the cycle starts again. The simple diagram below shows this learning cycle:
All this being so, each time you find yourself at the start of the cycle, the True Leader’s process can help you access your deeper capacities to meet new challenges. And you may find that each time you complete a cycle, it gives you extra confidence and encouragement in the very process of learning itself.