“You should lower the angle of your head when you speak. You’ve got a very long nose so it makes you look arrogant”

With the news of my recent appointment as chief executive at the HardyGroup, a number of people have asked me to write about my own leadership journey and advice that made a difference along the way.

Well let me tell you being gifted the above piece of advice by the CEO, when I was 22 years old and a first time team leader in community mental health, certainly had impact.

When I think about the leaders in our network my advice to a good 90% of you would be to stop reading at this point and get on with your day. Quite seriously you know a good deal more about leadership than me.

Perhaps then to the 10% still hanging in there with me I would say this…

I believe all the shades and styles of leadership we observe and experience from our much earlier, formative years shape us.  They shape our individual interpretation of leadership and ultimately how we go on to exhibit it.  Sure there are common threads to leadership, however in my view leadership is deeply personal (Click to Tweet) and a tapestry we have woven from those experiences.

All I have ever tried to do really is:

  • weave in all the good traits I have admired in others along the way
  • kept weaving in other little pieces as I come across them and
  • tried to maintain insight that how I think I am experienced by others as a leader is true

So what shaped my leadership?

The earliest and most memorable was observing and experiencing leadership in a cultural setting as a young kid growing up in rural New Zealand.  While my great uncle may have been the ariki (chief) of our tribe, his sister my grandmother, ruled the roost. Not in a forceful or overt way as that turn of phrase may suggest. Nor covert either. Rather in a steady, enduring and reassuring way….with flashes of serious irreverence and lightness thrown in.  That is the way of elderly Maori, particularly elderly Maori women. They’re a bit magical really.  They firmly believe they are the kaitiaki (guardians) of knowledge passed down to them, that they in turn must grow and pass on to the next generation.

I spent a lot of time with her, hours and hours in fact, under trees in her garden listening to her speak about tales of old, the importance of humility and always, always doing right by the people.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
What is the most important thing?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

Crafty thing she was. Today I think we’d call that coaching.

In summary I learnt that leadership is a privilege and brings great responsibility to raise up and grow. Not some days – every day.  When afforded that privilege you must assume the mantle of leadership. In fact it is your duty to. I also learnt to wear the cloak of leadership lightly even in the heavy moments. I learnt that positional power is lazy. Influence is everything (Click to Tweet).

The last thing I would say is this……

I don’t think we lose the capacity to receive the gift of advice that continues to shape and grow us as leaders – we just don’t pay nearly enough attention to creating a culture where people feel they can.

As for the advice from the Chief Executive who nearly saw me running off to get a nose job?

That person gave me my first big break and appointed me as chief executive when I was 30. That person was also the founder.

I came to learn that while that particular person didn’t always deliver feedback in a way I could easily hear they cared enough to give it and were determined to see me succeed them.

To this day that individual remains one of the people I routinely seek advice from.