I have been a leader of teams many different times in my life. I have repeatedly found myself gravitating towards and assuming roles of leadership even when I wasn’t specifically seeking the position. Leadership is something that I have both been automatically pulled to and intentionally ran towards with full gusto. I have run my own business, served as President of a non-profit, and I am now in an executive role as a senior leader in my current organisation. Even as a young lad, I was Senior Patrol Leader in the Boy Scouts, Junior High School Student President, and Captain of the Varsity soccer team.
Why is this? What is it about being a leader that some people are more compelled to do and others not so much? It seems it is a mix of a choice by the individual and partly external factors that tap a candidate on the shoulder to fill the necessary role of leading an army into battle, a team on to the field, into victory, toward success.
After a difficult year trying to lead a difficult team on a difficult quest, I am taking a moment to reflect on my own leadership style and recognise the contributing factors that have driven me to lead over the years. What are the characteristics and traits that have served me well in the past, that maybe will help me find success on the road ahead? What are the intrinsic traits that serve a leader well, and how can I tap back into my own innate abilities. What are the fundamental leadership forces that power the wind in the sails of taking a team toward success? As I rebuild the team moving forward, I consider some moments from my history that could provide some insights into how to model my future leadership self.
Captain of the team
I remember this one day, this afternoon vividly, the moment when I stepped on to the field full of confidence and commitment. I had been playing soccer all my life, I was a decent player, no virtuoso or anything, but good enough. I had been playing on the Junior Varsity team during my first two years of school and then took off a year to focus on racing my road bike, so I wasn’t even really in my prime soccer mode when I showed up for the Varsity tryouts in my Senior year.
I don’t know if I was actually playing especially amazing, but I took command of the team, I brought my enthusiasm to the pitch, orchestrated plays and drove the overall vibe and momentum of play. I directed the other players with respectful command and we made things happen. It was a moment when I touched by something bigger than myself, a strong tailwind that seemed to make my actions effortless. I also remember a lot of laughs and the joy of everyone having fun, in the zone, kicking goals.
The coaches tapped me for captain straight away that day. I really wish I knew exactly what inspired and motivated me that afternoon, I was existing on a higher plane and definitely in flow. I was connected to something greater than myself, and was able to channel that energy to everyone around.
The leader is touched by enthusiasm and inspiration that is the foundation of fundamental energy for the team. It is infectious and has a snowball like momentum building quality.
Of course, my greatest leadership role was as a small business owner. Similar to a sports team, a construction crew is very dependent on each other in a very tangible and physical way. The team must work together to literally lift heavy things, physically support each other and pull through on delivering milestones and dependencies. There is a lot that the leader does behind the scenes to ensure all the parts are in place for the team to successfully accomplish the daily and weekly goals. Scheduling, ordering, planning all happen away from the immediate action on the jobsite, but are absolutely critical for high performance outcome.
As a small business owner, most of this behind the scenes work was done by me, before and after hours in my home office, where I would work through the intangible elements of orchestrating the building of a house. This included assembling the right team for the job and making sure that each of those team members had what they needed to perform at their best.
One particular day stands out where we erected a steel frame for a three story home in a third the time initially anticipated. There were over 50 posts and beams to go together, all with pre-drilled attachment points in the steel, and almost every piece need to be lifted by a crane. Weeks of planning went into the day, to map out the workflow, ensure the correct measurements at the attachment points, and setting up the roster for who would be doing what all along the way. On the actual day it all paid off in exponential returns as we quickly found our groove and settled in to the building momentum getting ahead of schedule. In one of my most proud moments of my building career, we stood back and appreciated our work at the end of a long day having completed the entire frame build.
We cracked some well earned celebratory beers and I cancelled the crane for the rest of the week.
The leader sees the bigger picture and works all the adjacent orchestrations and elements required to enable the highest performance outcomes of the team.
Leader of the band
I love playing music, and while I have never considered myself to be overly talented or skilled at playing stringed instruments, I always have fun and can even have brief moments of brilliance and inspiration. However, when it comes to music, I was always the supporting player, the side man to help the real genius of the group to shine. And I was always totally ok to be along for the ride on someone else’s project. However, suddenly at one point in my career, I found myself again playing the role as leader in an unexpected way.
There was a scene of great players who mostly all had day jobs but played around in the bars, clubs and local events in different groups and arrangements. Out of this scene, I called together a group of great players, most of whom were more skilled and talented than myself. One evening jam led to another, and eventually to some gigs. Somehow the band was my project and in an unofficial way, I was the leader.
I was not the lead singer, or the one who really displayed the flair for improvised solos. I wasn’t even the one who talked to the audience in between songs. But I kept us coming together as a band, showing up for practice and the gigs. I was able to convince the local legend to come and play bass with us, and invite the special guest performers to sit in join the fun. And fun it was. I wouldn’t have been so presumptuous to call it the “Ian Waight Band,” but without me, it wouldn’t have happened.
The leader is the magnet that attracts the talent to come together and is the binding force that keeps the team motivated, inspired and playing their best.
There are obviously many qualities of a great leader. But for me, inspiration, enthusiasm, magnetism, vision and the contagion of these traits has been the magic that has buoyed my wins in the past.