Leadership: feelings matter


Over the many years of working in and belonging to different organisations, I didn’t realise how invaluable poor leaders would be in helping shape my understanding of good and effective leadership. Analysing their actions and the impact they have on organisational culture really gives you a sense of how central leadership is to either helping individuals flourish and therefore making the organisation thrive in achieving its aims, or making individuals feel insecure, unvalued or controlled and therefore reluctant or even afraid to give their all in helping the organisation be the best it can be.

While my MEd in Leadership and Management gave me an excellent framework for understanding organisation and leadership concepts, the first hand experience of both good and poor leadership, alongside intentional analysis and reflection on actions and impact, particularly in the context of culture, has given me a real insight into what’s effective and what isn’t. Little did I realise how helpful the experiences would be in shaping my knowledge – finding a positive in the negative.

The frustrating thing is that poor leaders are often less likely to think about their impact and the culture they’re creating – they’re often poor because they don’t take time to reflect and analyse, or listen and understand. I’ve noticed this is often down to deep insecurity and therefore creates a defensive approach to leading. They’re reluctant to listen to the views of others – even other leaders that work alongside them. So therefore never take time to understand their impact and adjust their leading for the good of the organisation. In some senses I think this is due to a deep disconnect with their own emotions and what might be triggered if they take on board feedback. I’ve always used this to try and understand why a leader is the way they are.

I guess the question is why do I care. I suppose leaders are in the privileged position to effect the wellbeing and effectiveness of so many people. I’ve seen how good and gifted people can become insecure and afraid, going from flourishing to downtrodden, at the change of just one leader at the top. This much influence and power is not insignificant. Good leaders are vital to an organisation’s success.

For me, it resonates with the words generally attributed to Maya Angelou: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

While policies, structures, processes and systems are all important parts of an organisation, the human aspect of how people feel really does have the biggest impact on how the people in an organisation flourish and therefore how well the organisation achieves its aims and functions well. Never underestimate this.

Gary Hopkins