Inspired By a Leader

Inspired By a Leader

I have earlier written about insecure leaders. Now I think I should write about other kind of leaders and about my own experiences of being led. I have to admit I´m quite fascinated about my organizations head leader´s ideas, how he thinks that reflective  interaction requires good self-esteem. He says that we should not hide or forget ourselves under the constant hurry. If we forget ourselves there is a concern that we will loose our contact to ourselves. We become more drifting personalities thinking that if we fill our days with e-mails, social media or other stimulations that make us look busy, people will respect us and we become more valuable. Drift is a choise one does without decision and it may unleash consequences for which one doesn’t take responsibility. Drift might sound small, but once unleashed, drift is a powerful, often almost unstoppable, force. Are we too afraid to ask ourselves, how we are?

Reflection in relationship and in leadership has been described as a process that helps to turn experience into knowledge. To be able to be a reflective person who creates reflective atmosphere is not something we are born with, it is a learnable ability and it develops in discussions with other more advanced minds.

I have found that there are atleast three different kinds of leaderships: motivational, inspiring and reflecting one.

Motivational leader motivates you, pushes you to accomplish the tasks you are expected to do. But you might need motivation to be pushed, maybe you would rather be doing anything else. We can be motivated by result not the journey.

Inspiring leader instead pulls you towards something that stirs your heart and mind. Inspiring leaders know that the most effective way to enroll followers is to clearly articulate what the leaders believe in, why they exist, and where they are going.

A reflective leader supports employees to get the best out of themselves. They allows employees to ‘hear’ their own thoughts and to focus on what they say and feel, they encourag employees to a conversation that leads to brainstorming, changing ideas and growing. Reflective leaders shows the employees that they are trying to perceive the world as employees see it and that they are doing their best to understand their messages. A reflective leader is not afraid of their employee’s wisdom and knowledge vice versa they celebrate the brains that they have in their company, they also give the credit for the ones it belongs to.

We can be inspired by a person, an atmosphere, or surroundings. I think we have different ways to get inspired. When we are filled with inspiration we don´t need external motivation to move forward, we will move forward. People who are lacking clear vision often need external motivation to keep themselves moving forward. Motivation or inspiration is not enough. We also need reflection to be able to grow, learn more from ourselves and our underlying emotions and interpersonal behaviors.

I get inspired by good conversations, (Of course surroundings too, I´m aesthetician.) talks where I can feel comfortable, be visible as who I am. An atmosphere is created where collective aspiration can be set free and somebody is keen to learn from me as I´m from them. This demands trust, believing and respect. Good, respectful relationship engages me to expand my thinking, to increase knowledge of what I might be lacking.

Last week I had a good conversation with my leader. If I exaggerate a bit the main content of our conversation was that he was interested how I felt myself in my team and that I´m free to do what ever I want to. I underline exaggerating, but the message to me was clear: I´m trusted and respected. As a professional I know my limits and they were discussed, but the feeling of freedom inspires me to do my best.

The conversation had reflective point of view. It included self-observation and self-evaluation and as we know this will lead to better self-awareness and confidence. When you are invited to collect information about yourself and your way of working, and by analyzing and evaluating this information, it helps you to identify and explore your own practices and underlying beliefs. This will lead to changes and improvements in working. Reflective leading therefore means professional development which begins in a dialogue with the employee.

Tiny little things to do to get the best out of the employee, but so meaningful and so hard if you are lacking reflective ability. I´m very easygoing person, I´m easy to please and easy to lead, but it must be done in a transparent, honest way. I must be able to trust that purpose is genuine. It is known that low levels of reflective ability have been associated with insensitive and emotionally unresponsive behaviors (e.g., withdrawal, hostility, intrusiveness, and distorted perceptions of affective communication). Reflective ability is a mental process thought to be invoked in the interpretation of human action (i.e., the attribution of personal meaning and intention to others’ behavior).

I must say I have different experiences being lead. Of course I have, I started my career in 90s. One of my bosses on my way has become my dearest friend and an otherone is helping me on my career what ever I have decided to do, he supports me no matter how crazy ideas I get! That I call trusting!

I have also met leaders who have not taken responsibility of their behaviors and actions. When you are lead by a very insecure leader you also become insecure, the reflection tells you, that you are not good enough, not accepted nor trusted. Your purpose is doubted no matter how hard you try. The creativity is killed and you will start to drift, there is no energy to think other options.

Reflective ability reveals unsafe patterns and disrespectful ways of leadership. It helps individuals to understand that emotions influence interactions. Ability of thinking reflectively helps to clarify the cause and effects relations between underlying emotions and interpersonal behaviors. May be, if you are too torn, you have no courage to do anything for the situation. You either defer or give up and resign.

The more reflective and respectful a leader can be, the more reflective and respectful their employes will be. The more reflective  leaders can be the more they can learn from the employees, because they knows they can trust the employees´ reflections. Reflective leaders motivate and inspire employees´ in powerful way because it involves personal growth.

Written by Annele Heikkilä

Photos Lia Heikkilä

Teachers need reflective leaders

Teachers need reflective leaders

Carey Nieuwhof has written interesting articles in his blog about insecure leaders. A week ago I had a great conversation about this subject. We were talking about how insecure leaders don’t realize how deeply their personal insecurities play role into their managerial styles, and how habitual these behaviors can become if left unchecked. In Finland we have a saying: ”I must have all the yarns in my hands”. For a good leader that is impossible.  Leaders with low self-awareness frequently take the impact of personal challenges, and project those issues onto employees, which is the ultimate outcome of not taking ownership of their insecurities. A leader who is being insecure in their personal life might find it very rewarding to be able to control everything, having all the yarns in their hands.

Learning organization ideology, that we highly admire in Icebath, doesn’t approve leaders who control everything.  In educational world it is very important to have leaders who have people-centered approaches to leading. People-centered approaches mean relinquishing control to others and trusting that employees will not abuse that responsibility. To be able to do this a leader must have very good self-awareness and they must be very confident and comfortable in their role to pull it off. To get the best out of students requires it teachers who have people-centered approach to teaching, coaching, leading their team, a group of students.

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Nieuwof writes that one of the most glorious answers a leader can give is “I don’t know.” Admitting that you don’t know and you want to hear your employees point of view, is a wise thing to do and even an insecure leader knows that. They do respect other opinions, they do want to hear them out and maybe to use them later as their own opinions. The biggest fear of an insecure leader is a fear of losing control. Losing control and switching to a people-centered approach is the most difficult thing to do.

During the reform in Finnish educational system, in this changing world in teaching teachers might have doubts how they will retain their authority, their expertness if they change their role from all knowing teachers to a questioner coaches. How the teachers are lead equals how they will teach, coach, lead their teams.

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To be able to lose control, insecure leaders and teachers must concentrate their own personal growth. To be able to grow you must start to think you can grow in every conversation, you can learn from everybody you meet and out of everything you experience. Realizing that you are not the center of the universe, all knowing miracle you can find out that wisdom can be found around you and there are people who know more than you and work better than you. They just need a good leader who supports them to get the best out of themselves.

There are so many leaders who try to control everything schedules, time in the office, output, budget etc.  At the same time they are trying to control everything they can, they say they want employees to be creative and innovative and make the best out of themselves and the company. The problem is that people who are controlled won’t be creative, innovative, and responsive. People won’t stay in their jobs, if they don´t feel respected and trusted. If they are forced they stay, but act like marionettes. We  don’t want our future employees to be marionettes. We want them to be inspired, with good self-awareness and confidence  in their role, what ever it will be,  to pull it off.

Instead of packing your insecurities into a briefcase every day and bringing them with you to work and projecting them onto employees or students,  leaders  and teachers should come to work without a briefcase at all! Tough challenge!

To be a good leader or teachers you don´t have to know everything, because that is impossible, but to be a good leader or teacher  you must be able to grow, learn and develop yourself every day in a reflection with your employees, co-workers, students and people around you.

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Reflection in a relationship and in a leadership has been described as a process that helps turn experience into knowledge. To be able to be a reflective person who creates reflective conversation is not something we are born with, it is a learnable ability and it develops on discussions with other more advanced minds. Low levels of reflective ability have been associated with insensitive and emotionally unresponsive behaviors (e.g., withdrawal, hostility, intrusiveness, and distorted perceptions of affective communication). Reflective ability is a mental process thought to be invoked in the interpretation of human action (i.e., the attribution of personal meaning and intention to others’ behavior). Reflective ability helps individuals to understand that emotions influence interactions. Ability of thinking reflectively helps to clarify the cause and effect relations between underlying emotions and interpersonal behavior.

What then is the purposes of good reflecting leadership ability?

A reflective leader allows employees to ‘hear’ their own thoughts and to focus on what they say and feel, they encourage employees to a conversation that leads to brainstorming and changing ideas, growing.

Reflective leader shows the employees that they are trying to perceive the world as employees sees it and that they are doing their best to understand their messages. They are not afraid of their employee’s wisdom and knowledge vice versa they celebrate the brains that they have in their company, they also give the credit for the ones it belongs to.

Reflecting does not involve asking questions, introducing a new topic or leading the conversation in another direction.  Leaders help employees through reflecting as it not only allows them to feel understood, but it also gives them the opportunity to focus on their ideas.  This in turn helps them to direct their thoughts and further encourages them to continue speaking and that way learning.

The more reflective a leader can be, more reflective will their employees, teachers be and their reflective ability reflects to the people around them. The more reflective a leader can be the more they can learn from their employees, because they know they can trust their employees reflections! Reflective leaders spread life skills around.

Be brave to let go of the yarns in your hands, someone else knows better how to create a woolen sock out of them!

Written by Annele Heikkilä