We all have taken on leadership role at some points in our life when we manage or care for the people at work or home. How we experienced leadership in the past can influence our leadership style later in life. Everyone has experienced and observed leadership from our government, parents, teachers and in our community. I am a Generation X-er. I had observed and experienced bureaucratic and authoritative leadership at school and at work in Indonesia. As a child, I have always looked up to government leaders, teachers and elders. I saw people in authority as exemplary models. I studied in a Catholic school from elementary to high school. I had a pastor and a nun as heads of school and they always instilled spirituality besides emphasizing academic achievements. I believe spirituality plays an important role in our life especially in bringing us up to be good human beings, treating others well and acknowledging that there is a divine power above us. My school was next to a Catholic church. Every month, all students in school attended the church service in the morning. Everyday at 12 noon, there was a special prayer held in school. My school pastor and nun always made sure that the students attended them without fail.
What I observed through my childhood lens is that bureaucratic and authoritative leadership are best to inculcate discipline when the leader is exercising it for the good of the people. But if the leader uses it to punish or instill fear in the people, the effect is that the people will avoid speaking up even when the leader is wrong. From the leader’s perspective, he thinks that he is always right. People who experience bureaucratic and authoritative leadership lacks initiative and defer to their leaders for decisions and actions. Companies that are run by bureaucratic and authoritative managers will not be able to adapt to change. In this day and age, there are governments and companies that still maintain and practice bureaucratic and authoritative leadership. Unless they are aware of the effect of their leadership and be willing to change, they will fall behind in economic and business growth.
In 1998, the world watched in astonishment the overthrow of a dictator, President Soeharto by the people of Indonesia in their push for democracy. It was a huge shift from an authoritarian government. Today, Indonesia government is made up of a group of leaders who work as a team and share responsibilities. In a democratic government led by such leaders, people are encouraged to voice their opinions and contribute. When people opinions are valued, they will continue to do so.
I hesitated to take on any appointed leader role in organisations that I joined in the past. As I am an introvert, I get uncomfortable around new people and tend to avoid conflict. I also have negative impression of leadership roles. This stems from my childhood experience whereby my parents had less time for the family after taking leadership responsibilities because of their work in the public sector.
Over time, I observed and learnt good leadership at first hand in Toastmasters club meetings and in the coaching organisation which I am a member of. I experienced different styles of leadership and eventually, I braced myself to take on a leader role in the Executive Committee of my Toastmasters club and my coaching organisation. It was an eye-opener. Being in the role is different from observing from the outside. I gained a lot of experience and practice in carrying out the role duties and responsibilities.
Through my appointed role and coaching experience, I find that coaching leadership has more importance and relevance for today’s life and business challenges. In coaching, we empower and encourage people to develop to their potential because we believe every person is resourceful and capable. Organisation executives need to empower their team members to make decisions in a fast-paced and digitally connected business world.
In the course of my coaching and consulting work with small business owners, I find most of them tend to focus more on business growth, sales and marketing than leadership in their organisation. In my opinion, they should concentrate just as much or more on leading because to execute the strategies and actions to achieve the goals and targets, they need to influence people around them.
Leadership roles foster personal and professional growth and transformation. Different leadership styles have positive or negative effect in people and shape people behaviors and actions. The business demands of today require organisations to be agile, hence people need to be empowered for decision-making and execution.
After reading my article, spend some time to reflect on your experience of leadership at your workplace, community or even at home. What is your preferred leadership style and one that you want to cultivate for yourself?