A Reflection on the Subject of Leadership. . .
Joe Stallion

A Reflection on the Subject of Leadership. . .

I will cover...

Introduction

This article will explore my personal interactions with leadership and related concepts such as self-leadership, followership and sustainability. The Team Entrepreneurship program has aided in the development of these characteristics by propelling me into situations that were once uncomfortable. The transition in becoming a somewhat competent team member in both leadership and followership positions has by no means been easy, but, it has been highly valuable. 

So, what is leadership?

Leadership is complex, dynamic and situational. It is hard to define its exact meaning due to the many influencing variables that act upon it, such as context, culture

and situation. ‘Team Leadership’ can be viewed as the “Enactment of the affective, cognitive, and behavioural processes needed to facilitate performance management (i.e., adaptive, coordinated, integrated action) and team development” (Bryman et al., 2011, p. xix). This quote appears clinical, yet, ignorant to the innate complexities that come with leading a team of any type or size. A definition that resonated with my personal experience in the leadership arena was from Ciulla (2014 p. xv), where she states “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.” 

The last three years have helped me develop my own understanding of leadership. Currently, I consider it “Authentically maximising the capabilities of others, both personally and professionally. A leader persuasively communicates a vision while removing any barriers that might hinder a teams performance in their respective tasks. An effective leader instils and represents constructive values such as trust, honesty and respect.”

What does this make followership?

Before starting my Team Entrepreneurship journey, I hadn’t heard of followership, let alone recognised the importance of developing the skills required to be a competent follower. My initial thoughts on the topic were negative. My natural inclination to lead persuaded me that anything less than a leadership position meant failure, and I couldn’t provide as much value to a team. I was wrong.

A collection of theorists perceive followership, rather literally in the context of hierarchy “Subordinates who have less power, authority, and influence than their superiors and who therefore usually, but not invariably, fall into line” (Kellerman, 2008, p. xix). My experiences of followership differ greatly from this rather militant assessment; it may appear true in fact, but not always in execution. My involvement with followership has been more akin to the ‘Upward leadership’ perspective, whereby the follower can influence leaders and contribute to the attainment of collective team goals (Crossman & Crossman, 2011). I have recognised the importance of understanding and experiencing the role of a follower as it directly correlates with becoming a better leader and overall team member

To perform well in either position, one must consider the importance of self-leadership. I will proceed to reflect on my personal experiences and ability to direct myself in both leadership and followership positions.

Leading the 'Self'

So what makes self-leadership relevant? The personal requirements often called upon when leading others also appear when leading the ‘self’. Self-regulation, Self-observation, Self-goal setting and Self-attention are all features that bridge the divide (Furtner, Baldegger & Rauthmann, 2013).

The internal route to better leadership and followership. . .

If a team under my leadership were to witness poor authority over the ‘self’, how could they trust in my ability to lead others? – Joe Stallion

Neck & Houghton (2006) propose three all-encompassing approaches to improve self-leadership: Behaviourally Focused Strategies, Natural reward Strategies and Cognitive Thought Strategies. Self-leadership behaviours can be managed through behavioural strategies, this is especially pertinent when engaging in unfavourable tasks. Self-observation, Self-goal setting, self-reward, self-punishment and self-cueing can all be used to improve defective behaviours. Natural Reward Strategies aim to generate a positive task focus, effectively focusing and building intrinsic motivation into tasks. Cognitive reward strategies refer to the management and substitution of dysfunctional beliefs (Neck & Houghton, 2006). 

Self-goal setting and Self-observation have worked hand-in-hand to powerfully enhance my self-leadership and therefore, my leadership of others. After recognising the importance of setting meaningful goals and keeping accountable to commitments, Limitless decided to implement a weekly goal tracker in which each team member is responsible for reporting their goals. This activity would have been highly useful during Limitless’s first project in level one, Disco in the Dungeon. Recording my goals and tasks would have been an effective Behavioural strategy to improve my performance. My lacking motivation during this project could have also been enhanced by using Natural Reward Strategies to recognise intrinsic motives. One such intrinsic motive could have been the social interaction with friends at the event.

Authentic Leadeership

To be an authentic leader, one must understand themselves; leaders must have self-awareness of their personal values, purpose and ethics when aiming to authentically influence and manage their followers. Such leaders have ownership over their actions, leading with their hearts as well as their heads (George, 2008).

This year, the relationship I have developed with my values has rendered indispensable when leading teams. Two values of particular importance include ‘Trust‘ and ‘Hard work.’ Although I wasn’t consciously aware, authentic alignment with my personal values can be traced back to the level-2 client project. I was appointed as the team leader, and within the pre-project review, I listed my primary objective as understanding the adaptability of a team leader. I experienced the innate relationship and balance between being authentic in order to gain trust and build relationships, yet still remaining adaptable to situations and throughout the project. After this project, I received feedback from the team, which supported my assumption. By authentically leading myself, Tyler recognised the positive impact that has on the team’s standards and the development of a ‘high performing culture.

In the future, I intend to elevate my understanding of what it means to be an authentic leader, I expect this to happen in relation to my changing values and purpose. 

My Leadership: Style and Approach

We often see the theoretical segregation of leadership into standard approaches: Autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire etc. My appointment to both leadership and followership positions has made me question the blanket terms used for people and their leadership styles. I have witnessed more variables at play. . .

The underlying question is whether a manager is capable of altering his/her leadership to match the shifting environment (Kelley, 2002, p. 463). 

You give me the situation, ill decide my approach!

Situational leadership does, in fact, support the disputed notion of a leader adapting their style based on contextual and situational influences. To understand for my self if I believe this to be possible, we need to know what is considered as the ‘Situation’. Fielders model identifies key situational variables that might cause a leader to adapt. ( 1 ) The personality of the leader – task or relationship motivated and ( 2 ) The degree of authority a leader has over a situation, such as  

project duration, freedom to choose the team and key project objectives (Vroom & Jago, 2007). Situational leadership has been conceptualised with various models. The SLII Model (Avery & Ryan, 2002) recognises four primary leadership styles: Directing, Supporting, Coaching and Delegating. To understand the appropriate style to use, the leader assesses the individual’s need for direction and support. Effective situational leaders apply varied support and direction to different individuals (Papworth, Milne & Boak, 2009).

Before reflecting on my situational leadership, let’s relate this to my experiences with followership. During my final year on the TE program, I had the goal of having a positive impact on another project within the community. I assumed a followership role within Champ, aiming to improve their lead generation and email marketing, a task in which I am already competent. Due to understanding the requirements of the position and requiring very little intervention. Champ simply ‘Delegrated’ the role, providing low direction and low support; a style of leadership in line with situational demands  (Avery & Ryan, 2002). Within the same project, Orson and Maxi exhibited a ‘supporting’ (low direction / high support) style of leadership, But how can this be? The ‘situation’ included my lack of experience in the nutrition and meal prep market, therefore, requiring a supportive leadership style for technical project tasks. These two incidents within the same project have helped me better understand the changes in my own leadership style in different situations. 

Solvi Solutions: An reflection on my Situational Leadership

One must be critical of theoretical models due to their inherent generalisations. Very few studies support the synchronisation of leader adaptability with follower development, most studies only note the benefits that come with being adaptable as a leader (Avery & Ryan, 2002). Another downfall of this model, which has been highly apparent in my experiences, is the lack of attention to follower personality. Across the projects in which I have been a leader, follower personality has been an attribute profoundly influencing the methods I build relationships, express expectations and address issues. During the client project in level 2, I found one member, in particular, deviating from positive culture and standards we established as a team. I addressed this individual on many occasions, yet, I noted they were blinded to the impact their carefree nature was having on the group. As can be seen from the attached blog titled “Client Project Update (17/02/19)“, I had to adapt my approach based on personality and express the negative impact this was having on the team. This was a situation where I was able to apply the ‘power’ afforded to my leadership position for the long-term benefit of the team. Awareness must be given to the excessive use of power as this is an element of leadership has a considerable risk of being misconstrued. Although we can criticise the specifics of this model, the empirical evidence supporting more general adaptive leadership is rather profound. 

A comparison of trait and adaptive leaders revealed significantly positive impacts on employee absenteeism, profitability and staff turnover (Silverthorne, 2000).  Although this theory sits inline with my experiences thus far, it is crucial to be aware of the leadership situations in which I possess no experience. Therefore, I remain tentative to the adaptability of my most innate and natural style in future leadership scenarios.

 

Leadership as a Coach

A significant building block of my TE experience is my involvement in the PAL team in which, I received my second ILM qualification – Coaching and Mentoring Level 3. PAL provided me with a valuable opportunity to utilise my coaching techniques, both leant in a level 2 module and in my ILM course to benefit members of the TE community.  

I foresee coaching to be significant in my approach to leadership due to the long-term benefits it can have on employees. While conducting research for my dissertation on the topic of self-directed learning, it is evident that many leaders see its long term benefits as a tool for leadership. Interviewee 2, Head of Learning at Cloudfm Group, states that  “…through coaching, through mentoring, employees can think for themselves and use their own initiative.” My experience with PAL has taught me that providing followers with effective coaching can provide opportunities for self-discovery and the discovery of tools that enable development over the long term. 

Thought Leadership -> Entrepreneurial Leader

Many entrepreneurs believe they can do more than just build companies, lead teams and make money. We recognise the beneficial impact we can have on our industries and wider society. . . – Joe Stallion

Thought leadership refers to the creation and dissemination of ideas that might result in a business advantage (Young,2013). Companies and individuals use this form of leadership to assert their forward-thinking and innovative position in their respective industries. From my experience in the marketing industry within Solvi Solutions, many of the business owners we have worked with have a distinctive vision not only for their company but also their industry. One such company is SixtySecondsVideo, whose CEO, Andy Bryce, is a Non-executive director at Solvi. Andy sees the recruitment industry using low-cost automated video production to target potential workers over social media platforms. This becomes indicative of the product offering at his company and the goals of him and his team. 

But how can this relate to entrepreneurial leadership? Entrepreneurial leadership refers to one’s ability to influence and direct others towards organisational goals and achievements while exploiting entrepreneurial opportunities (Renko et al., 2013). In this previous example, It is evident that Andy leveraged his thought leadership to exploit entrepreneurial opportunities. Another example of thought leadership and its influence on me as a business leader is within Solvi solutions where our strategy is to provide innovative marketing ideas over Linkedin. Our innovative products are beginning to be recognised as leading services within our industry. This has then influenced an entrepreneurial approach to leadership, whereby my direction is governed by enterprising opportunities (Renko et al., 2013).

My Strengths and Weaknesses

Leadership

Followership

Asking the right questions - don't tell the answers!

The GROW model has helped me better structure coaching interactions with others. Asking questions instead of claiming to know all of the right answers gives a sense of task ownership to team members. When leading, I have found it key to provide project ownership to all team members, this has positive impacts on motivation (Macauley, 2015)(Byham & Wellins, 2015).

Ability to communicate my ideas with clarity

Luthra & Dahiy (2015) denote the importance of being able to communicate ideas clearly when in leadership positions. To further develop my communication as a leader for the future, I am required to improve my ability to be concise and efficient with my points.

Compromised wellbeing and leadership sustainability

Tyler noted the impact of stress on my leadership abilities. In reflection, the reason for my abruptness in these high-pressure situations is down to my worry for insufficient task outcomes and disappointing recipients of my work. Recently I came across an HBR article detailing the benefits of meditation for leaders. In the future, I will trial the use of meditation to help me view issues objectively supported by Birk (2019).

Willingness to learn

Since the start of TE, I had been aware of my growth mindset (Caproni,2017). This has been especially impactful when the leader complements my willingness to learn. More specifically, a transformational approach has been found to work with growth mindsets that encourage personal and professional growth (Caniëls, Semeijn & Renders, 2018).

Ability to build effective working relationships

I consider this a significant strength that has made me a better follower. However, Implications do arise with building relationships, specifically with sustaining an authentic self. Falsely building relationships with people that don't share your same values and purpose can come across highly unauthentic. Building genuine relationships is critical when trying to work in a caring and productive work environment (Crosby, 2020).

Natural inclination to lead

In future followership roles, I need to exercise sufficient self-awareness over my own self-efficacy (Prussia, Anderson & Manz, 1998) in order to establish a good understanding of what areas I can provide value within a team. It is essential to be aware of the situational nature of who is most appropriate in each role.

Leadership and its close friend Followership

One cannot be a good leader until they learn to follow. . . To understand how to lead but not follow is like teaching tennis without being able to play – 

Joe Stallion 

The success of a leader-follower relationship is dependent on not one single role, it is reliant on the interaction of ‘good’ followers who have an awareness of their position in the team and ‘good’ leaders who can respond to the changing situational demands. To sustain this relationship over the long-term, it the responsibility of both parties to facilitate the developments of principals such as psychological safety, ethicality, and sustainability.

Psycological Safety and Ethical Leadership

After interacting with Limitless, I have begun to recognise the importance of psychological safety when building a high performing team. Psychological safety refers to shared beliefs between work unit members that it is safe for them to engage in interpersonal risk-taking (Edmondson, 1999)(Walumbwa & Schaubroeck, 2009). This concept is becoming increasingly important due to the lessening divide between the personal and professional world. Technological advances are encouraging the merge of this divide. This fact is highly prominent within entrepreneurs due to the lack of boundaries enforced upon them. To promote psychological safety, leaders must remove constraints with followers and support two-way communication. In line with ethical leadership practices, the leader should value honest and truthful communication which also contributes to building safe interpersonal relationships (Brown, Treviño & Harrison, 2005).

During level 1 on the program, my excessive work commitments led to the breakdown of a personal relationship. This was something that was impacting me personally and professionally. I felt the negative repercussions of not feeling able to talk to team members about these issues, this was predominantly down to the lacking psychological safety in the team.

Emotional Intelligence

The attribute of Emotional Intelligence (EI) is of benefit to leaders and followers alike. Daniel Goleman notes five elements to emotional intelligence self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy (Anon, 2020). These factors combine to give awareness of one’s emotions as well as being able to better predict and understand the feelings of others. In regards to leadership, there are past situations in which I have not used EI effectively. 

During the level 2 client project, points of high stress led to the failure to regulate my own emotions effectively. Awareness of my attitudes and being able to regulate them would have prevented the emotional implications on the quality of my leadership. Recently, I exhibited positive developments in my use of emotional intelligence when relieving Aiden from his head of sales position within Solvi. I had to make Aidan aware that we were unable to assure his position within the company after we have graduated from the TE program due to the financial liability of heaving both Andreas and I on full salaries. Delivering this news required high levels of empathy to understand his feelings towards the situation; I then regulated my behaviour based on situational needs.

My Leadership and Followership Journey

Watch this video below to hear me conclude my key learnings this reflection as well as what I will consider for the future!

Shape 01
Shape 02
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BY  JOE STALLION

joseph2.stallion@live.uwe.ac.uk 

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