Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Week 2: Leadership

Leadership was the main focus of our second health and development class this semester.  So, what qualities make a good leader? What is the difference between leadership and management or are they the same thing? Am I a leader and if so, what kind?

I always believed that a leader was someone who always remained calm and who felt comfortable taking the reins and steering a group safely and purposefully to their shared goal.  They were people who were good at coming up with a plan, who could delegate tasks accordingly but also adapt their strategies appropriately when circumstances changed.  They knew how to best utilize the strengths of those around them and had great social skills, motivating people and getting them to work together.  They knew how to make people feel valued and important to the success of the group and/or endeavor.

As it turns out, I was not entirely off target, but I did mistake some skills for leadership that are should actually be attributed to good management.  Leadership and management are not the same thing but do go hand in hand.  Here are the actions, behaviors and skills of a leader versus management, as described in class:

  • Create the vision
  • Align and inspire people
  • Collaborate
  • Create and build process
  • Keep values visible
  • Motivate
  • Communicate, communicate and communicate
  • Look to the future
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Implement the vision
  • Plan, budget and organize the team
  • Maintain order and system
  • Manage the impact of change
  • Measure day to day
  • Control and problem solve
  • Seek step by step improvement
Where I went wrong was considering the planning and every day adaptations to keep everyone on track part of leadership when it is more a part of management.

To be fair, the best leaders and managers that I have worked with had one foot in both worlds.  They had a vision and were able to motivate people, they had great communication and social skills but they were also involved in the day to day undertakings of realizing their end goal.  They were understanding towards the people working with and under them, hearing their concerns and helping them work through any difficulties they were having.

I have only experienced being in a leadership position a few times as captain and coach of sport teams, vice president of student council at university, shift lead at a fast food restaurant.   All of these positions have required both leadership and management skills.  I have often wondered what kind of leader I was on those occasions and what kind I would be in the future.  

(Cartoon by Penwill, R, retrieved from

So I was pretty keen to take the leadership style inventory quiz at to see what my results would be.

In the end, my leadership style result was:

Participative Leadership
Participative leaders accept input from one or more group members when making decisions and solving problems, but the leader retains the final say when choices are made. Group members tend to be encouraged and motivated by this style of leadership. This style of leadership often leads to more effective and accurate decisions, since no leader can be an expert in all areas. Input from group members with specialized knowledge and expertise creates a more complete basis for decision-making.

If my result from the quiz was accurate, I am very happy with my style of leadership.  I want to be the kind of leader who is actively involved, who motivates people and takes the views of others into consideration.  But when I am in charge, I know that I also enjoy making the final decision myself.  After having read Goffee and Jones' article "Why should anyone be led by you?", I realized that I have another quality to bring to the table: vulnerability.  I noticed at a very early age that if I wanted people to open up to me, it was easier if I opened up to them first.  I have no problem openly admitting to my own limitations and weaknesses and have found that doing so not only helps me to work on them, but also helps people to feel more comfortable around me.  It helps to build trust.  I want those who work with me to feel understood and appreciated, I do not want them to be too nervous to tell me if they need help, more time or even a bit of a break.  Of course, I will have to be conscious of not becoming a pushover. 

Overall, I think that this style will help to make me an effective leader in the field of public health by being inclusive and empowering but also by providing structure and direction to ensure that goals are accomplished without the confusion of having too many cooks in the kitchen.

One thing that I know I should work on is confidence in my own capabilities, believing that I have it in me to inspire people to do their best work individually, but also to guide them to collaborate successfully.  I should also learn to trust my intuition, which Goffee and Jones mentioned was another shared characteristic among great leaders.  About a year ago at the end of a year's research contract, a supervisor re-wrote my work without even looking at it and my confidence was quite shaken.  I knew that it should not have been, everyone has their own preferred writing style and researchers can be quite pedantic about it.  Still, it took a lot for me to summon up the courage to write again in the following months for my new job, despite the encouragement and praise that I received from my new supervisor.  Hopefully as I gain experience in the public health sector my self-confidence will grow and I will have more faith in myself to steer the course of projects, research or otherwise.


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