by Jenny Junkeer

You do not have to wear the title to embody leadership. In fact, many leaders wear their titles superficially, taking advantage of their title, or use their title to augment their power and diminish others in the process. Leadership and the pertaining skills and emotional intelligence required to be a valuable and influential leader are not things that you can learn from a textbook – being a leader requires growth, practice and consistent personal checks. It is not enough to have the title and the authority – an effective leader grounds themselves with ethical values and view themselves and colleagues with a humble and considerate lens. This can be challenging for new leaders and hard to maintain for experienced ones. Often the emotional labour that comes with being or becoming a leader, can steer them towards their own demise.

There are distinct differences between leaders whose worth comes from their badge and leaders whose worth is shown by their influence and action.

A valuable leader will turn their followers into leaders too.

So how can you be an influential leader?

Understanding good leadership involves recognising conventional leadership attributes that have perhaps grown outdated or in some instances are unacceptable. Executing the role of a leader can be a daunting transition, and often when endeavouring to fill the role, leaders get caught up in the wrong ideals and slip into bad habits that turn into toxic dynamics. The sooner you recognise the systems, the easier it is to manoeuvre your direction.

Turn POWER leaders who rely on hierarchy into INSPIRING leaders.

Hierarchy, in the eyes of those who govern it, works. Such hierarchical cultures are exploitative and oppressive. When leaders who have power in such systems use this to their advantage, they are exploiting employees even further. Increasingly, employees, consumers and the wider public are becoming intolerant of such systems and the authorities who are complicit in them. Such dynamics within an organisation are an easy way of saying goodbye to your credibility. Soon, those exploited employees are going to become exhausted, voice their experience to friends and/or family, or perhaps even on social media. Problematic leadership affects not only your employee’s mental health, but can irreversibly tarnish your branding.

Using power to manipulate employees can be more insidious, especially when the power the leader holds act as the bones of the organisation’s workplace culture. For example, passive aggressive language, gas-lighting or implicitly guilt tripping employees are subtle and often goes unnoticed – but are extremely manipulative ways a “leader” might get their way with their employees. Sometimes leaders are unaware that they may be using toxic methods of controlling their employees.

Such leaders have dominance over their subordinates, which may be effective in everyday productivity in terms of tasks, but in the long run is holding back organisations. Why does a leader need to be dominant when they can be assertive? Why does a leader need to belittle employees to show their power when they can be respectful and lead by example? Leaders who were once dependent on outdated workplace cultures (hierarchies) have the power to become inspiring figures, leading by example – showing the timid that it’s okay to assert their loudness, assert their rights, in a respectful way.

Turn leaders who PROJECT flaws onto employees into EMPATHETIC and ACCEPTING leaders.

When something goes wrong, not to plan or doesn’t turn out how you want it to, it’s almost too easy to project the generated sadness, guilt or confusion into direct anger towards someone who will make space for it. Unfortunately, those who are susceptible to being targeted are employees beneath the person in power, as they tend to shy away from conflict that could arise if they were to dispute the unfair anger directed at them. They grow to perceive their positions as vulnerable, rather than feeling as though they are understood and accepted. Projected negativity from a leader generates feelings of injustice which leads to bitterness and tension and it is only a matter of time before such sourness taints the work environment, which eventually damages your organisation’s branding. Therefore, projecting negativity where it is not warranted, is subtly and gradually projecting onto and disfiguring the organisation’s shape and identity.

It takes personal growth, humility, patience, self-reflection, or sometimes even professional help to untangle yourself out of the habits of psychological projection. The more you stop yourself from attributing personal insecurities, flaws or negative impulses to others, the stronger you become mentally. In doing so you are broadening your perception of reality. Building the mental structures to be able to work through your emotions is essential in developing your emotional intelligence. Those who have high EQ have the capacity to sit with their own anger, sadness, frustration or anxiety and take the necessary steps to deal with it in a way that is healthy, as opposed to harmful to themselves or demanding or taxing to others.

When leaders feel frustrated or angry by the outcome of a situation, they should take the time to process their emotions by questioning them. Reflecting on the reasons why they feel such emotions (which can be harder for some but gets easier with practice) will allow leaders to consider a larger number of factors affecting the situation as well. This is a far more productive way of dealing with disappointment or setbacks, as detailed in the diagram below.

Turn SELF-IMPORTANT leaders held back by their egos into HUMBLE leaders.

Often the tendency to project and egotistical tendencies are related. Of course, there are other factors that make us project emotions, such as insecurities or social conditioning that prevents the development of mental structures to process emotions in any other way. However, when projection is fuelled by ego, it makes the leader appear to be self-important, inconsiderate, or narcissistic when they are unable to accept accountability for their actions. Self-importance, while on the surface can be intimidating, is often a sign of insecurity and fragility. When someone’s identity and sense of self is dependent on them always being right, the most important or any other superficial ego-feeding attribute, how strong of a leader can they be?

Titles are superficial. Authenticity is memorable, respected and much more valuable to an organisation. By being an authentic leader who accepts accountability for their own mistakes, makes space for everyone to be authentic. A good leader puts themselves in the position of their “followers” and colleagues. Inspire your followers to inspire and lead the way you would like to be led.

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