Originally posted on onewomanproject.tumblr.com by Madeline Price, the founder and director of the One Woman Project. Madeline is also known as “Pademelon” in her role as a leader at the St Lucia Brownie Guide unit.
My first experience of leadership was at the tender age of seven, where I managed one full-time employee (aged four, paid below minimum wage in half-Kit Kats) and numerous customer service complaints at my little shop in the living room of our house. Those few hours of training and managing an employee who couldn’t understand why Nanna kept taking items from the shop without paying (I later realised we were having a ‘100% off everything!’ sale, not a ‘10% off everything!’ sale) was the first time I consciously realised that leadership and the skills of leadership permeates through every aspect of your personal and professional life (seven-year-old me did not quite think of it in those terms, but the thoughts of ‘How do I encourage Sophie (my little sister) to keep working after everything from the shop has been stolen – wait! Hey! I once got her to hold the end of the hose whilst I abseiled down the side of the house – this will be easy!’ generally resulted in the same overarching message).
I am pleased to say that over the fifteen years following, my leadership skills and experience has substantially improved. Throughout high school, I managed the Media Committee and founded the Alternative to Schoolies Project (managing eleven student volunteers on a two-week trip abroad). In my early years of university, I founded and directed the University of Queensland Oaktree branch, before joining the wider Queensland Oaktree team and managing their early Community Leaders program. I travelled to Prague, Czech Republic, to study the renowned Philosophies of Leadership program at Charles University. Most recently, I manage 20 volunteers across two states with my organisation, the One Woman Project.
That long explanation of my personal experiences with leadership was not an attempt to ‘toot my own horn’ (or ‘brag’ as a regular person would say) – it was there to illustrate something. Leadership and the skills involved with leadership, are not learned on the job at the top – you do not start your journey to leadership when you are managing 20, or hundreds of employees or volunteers, you start your leadership journey with small steps. From managing a shop at age seven, to taking on the role of coach of the local soccer team, to joining your local youth group – you start leading small before you go to leading big. If you lead big before you are ready, or if you get into this position without having extensive background in leadership roles, one of three things will happen; your volunteers/employees will end up despising you (on a personal level), you will never enjoy the position of leadership again, or that business/non-for-profit/social enterprise is going under. In some of the worst cases, all three scenarios happen at once.
You cannot lead big (before you have lead small) because there is no such thing as a ‘natural born leader’ and you just do not have the skillset to lead big without experience.
No one is born a leader. If someone calls you a ‘natural born leader’, then they should never be in a position of leadership because they do not understand the cultivated skillset and the experience that make up and are required to be a good leader. Skills like critical and productive honesty (the ability to say, ‘I’ll be honest. We screwed the pooch on this one and the entire business is on fire, but here are the possible solutions to the problem…’), the delegation process (delegating tasks to ensure efficiency and organisation – one person, no matter how good, cannot do it all), clear and pointed communication (you don’t want to give a roundabout ‘politician’ answer – you want to be clear in your communicative aspects in person, online and via phone), passion (if you do not believe in what you do, why should anyone else – I will talk about this later), risk taking (as humans we are naturally risk adverse – the best decisions I have ever made were betting on a volunteers creative idea and running with it full steam – I am yet to be given a reason not to take that risk on a passionate volunteer and their dream, and I am not afraid to fail – failure is just an opportunity to learn), ability to take responsibility (this is not about admitting that someone else was correct and it goes further than just admitting you were wrong on an issue – it is admitting you were wrong and taking action to rectify the situation), the ability to listen (AND REALLY LISTEN – not just to the words but to the subtext behind them – if any employee or a volunteer is disgruntled by a decision you have made, do not just hear that they are disgruntled, hear why!), continuous learning (no one will ever know everything about your industry, leadership, or team management – if you are not dedicated to continuous learning, then you are not dedicated to being a good leader), are what combine to make a pretty damn good leader. Of course, you could have all of these things and be a poor leader, but that is where your purpose comes in.
Good leaders cultivate the skills needed to get their employees or their volunteers emotionally invested in their purpose. If your employees or volunteers do not care about what it is that you do, you just are not going to achieve great things.
Now I know that is easy to say coming from a field of global gender equality, but, and this may surprise you, the majority of my volunteering team did not come on board because they had a longstanding and vested interest in the global gender equality movement. Yes, they all identified as feminists (but really, who doesn’t?) and yes they had an interest in volunteering, but they came on board because I, or an existing volunteer, or a past participant spoke so passionately about what we do at the One Woman Project, that they had no other option than to dip their toe in and get wet. A good leader causes people to become emotionally invested and passionate about what they are passionate about – they are able to articulate, so passionately, their purpose (and their organisation or company’s purpose) that no person could ever walk away uninvested.
And if your employees, or volunteers, or team mates are not invested in what you are collectively doing, then you have failed in your job as a leader.
Leadership development is an important part of being a Guide and a Guide Leader. Find the original post, and others by Madeline Price, at onewomanproject.tumblr.com.