Rethinking Leadership

Leadership is a word I’ve never really encountered during my time with Global Generation - both 7 years ago as a Generator and in more recent times as an Intern. It certainly isn’t a word that springs to mind when I think about our team. On Tuesday however, I was lucky enough to be a participant in a training day we hosted for The Wellcome Trust’s People team (formerly Human Resources Dept) on the theme of leadership and learning which sparked a new-found fascination with exactly what it means to be a good leader, and opened my eyes to the positive impact that having a full understanding of leadership can have in all aspects of our lives. 

The day began by walking through one of our polytunnels and choosing quotes carefully placed amongst the plants that particularly resonated with us. It was at this point that I realised I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be a leader. To me, leadership meant being assertive, coordinating people, and ensuring that what you need to be done gets done in an swift and effective manner. What I later came to realise is that while these are features of what leadership can be, they do not necessarily define it. Leadership is about being pragmatic and adaptable, to be able to flex what Bjergegaard and Popa call “uncertainty muscles”, to work with instead of against the unknown by utilising the best of what each person within a team has to offer. It is about being able to act as a single unit with many specialised factions working in harmony with one another.

While the quotes certainly got me thinking about leadership in a more open-minded way, it was actually learning about and being surrounded by nature that helped to solidify my understanding of it. During the day we learned about how bees behave in a hive and the way that each bee has a very special role to perform. If one group of bees were to stop doing their job correctly, the hive would be unable to function. Similarly in an ecosystem such as a forest, plants, weeds, animals, and even fungi all work together in an interconnected and mutually-dependent manner. 

In the afternoon workshop, my group made sweet treats for the whole group. It was through this process that I truly understood how seeing leadership as something organic and fluid allowed the team to work in a seamless and effective way. We quickly assigned ourselves different roles to get the job done. While some people chose to to collect herbs from the garden for our shortbreads, others people collected utensils from the kitchen and began mixing ingredients. We seemed to work in complete sync with each other without any clear hierarchy and we all displayed leadership skills at different points of the day reflecting our unique skill sets. Good leadership allows the position of ‘leader’ to rest with each person within the group. There will be different leaders at different times depending on people’s strengths and weaknesses. Leadership is not synonymous with hierarchy - or at least it shouldn’t be. It is something fluid, it moves and changes with a team’s needs. It is about being a unit, working as one for a desired goal.