Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Invisible Leader

The usual picture of a leader shows a powerful figure, usually male, at the forefront of things. He is telling us what to do and how to do it yet often this person is not the leader at all. Sometimes he is a figurehead whose purpose is to bring issues into focus and people to attention. The real leader is not to be seen. The true leader remains invisible.

There are many different styles of leadership but the most often overlooked is the style that I call ‘Invisible Leadership’. This is a role often taken by women. You have all heard variations of the saying “Behind every successful man is a strong woman.” What many people miss is the fact that this is a vital and valid form of leadership. It is one common throughout nature. Someone has to get the lion to stop sunning himself and go in search of food. It was probably the same with the caveman. What else, other than an empty stomach, would make him leave the safety of his fire to go hunting? It is the invisible leader, planning for the future. Sadly, that role is usually unacknowledged and overlooked.

There are many of us who prefer not to be the public face of a business or issue, but know what needs to be done to achieve the goal. Often we don’t have the loud voices or physical presence of the visible leader, but we are the strategists, the tacticians and the people managers. As women, we often find ourselves in this role yet because this is a job that we have traditionally done within the family, we tend to forget about the skills associated with it. Partly due to our gender, partly to our upbringing, we have developed the capacity to be aware of and meet the needs of multiple people at once. If this is not leadership, then what is?

Take, for example, Eleanor Roosevelt. This woman was strong, clever and politically able, but perhaps not aware of that until she was forced to take over some of her husbands public duties during his illness. It is certain that FD Roosevelt would not have been so successful without her advice and counsel behind the scenes. Luckily, Eleanor realised her capabilities and acted on them, becoming powerful in her own right. Not every woman will operate at this level, but we all utilise the same skills. We guide, we advise, we push, we encourage, we balance, we support, we plan and we lead by example.

On a personal note, have you ever stopped to think about how you influence those around you? Have you thought about what things you do to make certain events happen as they should? Have you ever actually considered these as skills? Have you realised that your skills are valuable and that they can be polished and refined further? I would guess that for most of us this way of working is second nature and has not been worth a second thought.

It is time that we acknowledged Invisible Leadership as a definite leadership style. It brings with it special skills, aptitudes and beliefs, just as any other leadership style. Perhaps once it is formally acknowledged we women might begin to see and appreciate the delicate skills we use on a day to day basis.

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