What kind of a leader do you plan to become?

Andrea Schüller on October 12, 2015

Dwell on the word ‘plan’ with me for a second if you will.

What if I had asked you: what kind of a leader do you want to become? Answers to this question are often predictable.

“Inspirational”. Yes. Great. Don’t we all.

“Impactful”. Er. Yes. Always useful.

“Fair”. Yup.

“A role model”. Nice one. Tick.

“A leader who people fondly remember because of what he did for them”. Okay. Extra points for effort, but this is just a long way to say inspirational and role model, isn’t it?

Do you get my gist?

Don’t let yourself get away with firecracker answers!

These are firecracker answers. Beautiful now, forgotten about in a second. Too generic. Too ill defined.

So, let me ask you again: what kind of leader do you plan to become?

How will this fit with who you are? What choices will you make, what values will you stand for, what strengths will you make maximum use of and/or add to your existing list? How will that tie in with where you want, even need, your organisation to go? What’s the stretch in this for you? How will you know that you made it?

Now we’re talking!

I still imagine you sitting in front of a blank page. These are good questions – and incredibly difficult to answer. If you limit yourself to just words, that is.

A memorable way to ‘act out’ your plan

At the very end of my 12 – 18-months leadership development programmes I often ask the participants “What kind of leader do you plan to become?” Because, with graduation, the real work is only just beginning.

I ask participants to prepare an individual presentation to the entire group. No longer than 10 minutes. Maximum. I ask them to think of this as their individual leadership manifesto.

I give precious little guidance. I just ask them, as they prepare for their presentation, to aim for maximum

  • Impact – so that their colleagues (and they themselves!) will remember what they said
  • Authenticity – so that the method and style of communication ‘fits’ them and they really mean what they say and are committed to doing it
  • Clarity – so that the message is unambiguous, leaving little room for interpretation and ‘get out clauses’.

The funny thing is, when I bump into my participants many years after these presentations – they still remember them, as do I. They imprinted themselves on my long-term memory because they were meaningful and delivered in ways, which truly were ‘signature styles’ for the individuals in question.

Here is an example

Oliver was the first to step in front of his colleagues.

He positioned a chair next to him and then sat down, with a slow, slightly painful looking movement. He took a toy car out of his pocket and placed it on the floor.

He asked us to imagine, that his younger self was next to the chair he sat in, playing with this car. He was sitting in the space where his grandmother, who raised him, had sat.

He then nodded to a colleague to turn the flipchart page. On the page we were all looking at, he had written the question: “Granny, what can I be, when I grow up?”

He, in his role as his grandmother, looked at his imaginary younger self attentively and fondly for a long time.

“What would you like to be?”

After another pause:

“How can you find out, if that is what you’d like to be?”

And after another pause:

“How can I help you?”

He then nodded at his colleague again to turn the flipchart. The next question read: “Granny, will you always be there for me?”

Again, he looked at his younger self for a while before answering –with contemplative breaks between the answers:

“How does my being there help you?”

“Who else can help you in this way?”

“What can you do, to need my help less as you grow older?”

There was a final nod to the colleague in charge of the flipchart. “Granny, will I be successful in life?”

Sticking to the established routine, he asked his younger self the following three questions:

“Where in your body will you know that you are successful?”

“What will you tell your own grandchildren about what made you successful?”

“What will you ask them, to help them become successful themselves?”

After this question, he lowered himself onto the ground – becoming his younger self.

Sitting there, he asked us: “How do I know that I want to be the type of leader my grandmother was for me? Because she made me feel listened to and taken seriously like no other adult. Because she made me feel strong and capable like no other adult. Because, from as early as I can remember, she helped me to think for myself, knowing that she trusted my judgement. All I needed to do, was to grow into this.

With that, he got up.

So, what kind of leader do you plan to become?