Disrupting ‘Lonely On Top’ : The New Face Of Leadership

The following blog has been contributed by Manavi Baveja – Global Head, Organisational Development, Uber. A leader with over a decade of enabling organisational development across companies, she truly practices what she preaches. With a journey rooted in intelligence, caliber, and a decade worth of unbeatable experience – she is a force to reckon with! Read on to discover her take on the changing face of leadership in a pandemic prone world.

2020 has been the year of embracing relationships while maintaining social distancing. Absence of demarcation between the work world and personal space has led to unexpected & chaotic coupling of our roles – mother, leader, friend, colleague, spouse, and biz partner. In this harmonisation, lies the opportunity to rethink leadership and decouple the journey from its estranged nature.

The new space of leadership, if you so choose to embrace, is more human, connected, forgiving, and most of all less lonely. The art of leadership is not in the position, it is a space and this is my view of how you can create and curate your leadership space.

Leadership space is a connected, socially active context in which a leader maximises her potential, creates unparalleled trust and biz impact.

It Begins With You

Examine your notions and judgments about this position. Are you secretively, unconsciously, or consciously creating a space that fulfills the idea of being a distant, know-it-all, charismatic, not easily available leader? Shedding this notion of exclusivity is the first step in creating this space. Leadership is a social construct, the more you create exclusivity, the lesser space.

So what enhances the space? switch in your perspective, coming out of the mold and embracing vulnerability. What does it sound like? A new leader saying this to her team:

“This is a new space for us all, including me, I don’t know all the pieces yet and I won’t promise you consistent direction, things will change and we will be challenged, I am not promising I will make all the right calls, I am promising an exciting journey, we will figure it out together. I know we will create value, credibility and impact, let’s figure out how”.

Share your challenges, open up about your apprehensions, express & emote instead of the famous leader poise.

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Its A Journey, Not A Destination – Choose Your Fellow Travellers

It doesn’t have to be a lonely journey, build your peer boards.

A great vision is just a vision in vain if it is not shared and commonly pursued.

Creating consultation boards serve the dual purpose of creating a reflection space and building buy-in. You could have different boards for different purposes, within and outside your official circles. One could reflect your work (possibly all the right capabilities you are looking for, a cross-functional colleague set-up), one that exchanges notes on leadership (possibly an offline network that doesn’t judge you or the team members you are talking about), one that challenges you (a selection of mentors/your former bosses). You are on a journey and it will be super bland if you don’t take along a few fellow travelers to make it fun.

Alone or Lonely?

It is critical to differentiate between loneliness and being alone – Social loneliness is felt when we are unable to get support from peers, colleagues, family, or friends. Being alone & focussed, on the other hand, is important for everyone. When setting your schedule or conducting your meetings think about – are you distancing yourself emotionally vs being selective about your time? When you meet with someone 1v1, begin by setting the right intent for that meeting, leave your gadgets on the side to be able to fully emotionally connect, listen, and be involved and your leadership space is already getting better. Your schedule can enable focus time for you and your intent will help you from being lonely.

Power Markers Upwards And Effusiveness Downstream

A leader’s gravitas comes from the vibe they bring to the room. Unfortunately, often times, we bring power markers where it’s easy – within our team! And we take the empathetic tone upwards / to the board which is an easy way of showing congruence in directions / strategy vision. The call to action is to reverse the strategy, especially with teams at the top. When they come with experience and buzzing with passion, don’t fizzle it out by presiding over. In fact take that tone, assuredness, and gravitas upwards and build a brand for yourself and your team.

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Coaching Is Still A Distant Sport, Build Reflective Capacities

A common go-to when the going gets tough for leaders and a sure short indication that your leadership space is contracting – Coaching is not always the right answer. Don’t get me wrong, as a coach myself and a full of gratitude coachee, I know the power of coaching. But the use of coaching to reduce your loneliness, or to get answers to your leadership, is a misguided perspective. Coaching unleashes you to be aware, to be more open and vulnerable. It is important to develop these attributes and have them placed in your armoury. But it is even more important to go out and find your answers with your teams and your network. Don’t let coaching confine you in a bubble and restrict you from creating that space!

Leadership is not one person sport, neither is life. If this pandemic has taught us anything – it is the importance of the bare basics – being human and coming together to find a way through. Find the human beneath the daunting title of a leader.

Why I Wrote This Article?

This is my tryst with this space as a keen observer, a receiver, a coach, a learning practitioner, a curator, and most of all a leader in disrupted times!

Image: Inspired by the muted tones of Japanese culture comes a delicate idea of finding beauty in imperfection (wabi-sabi) OR said differently the cracks are part of the journey, of being vulnerable, which only intensifies beauty and not taints.

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