In recent months I have become obsessed with thoughts about leadership. Maybe it’s because there has been an explosion of thinking in the world of “leadership skills”. Maybe it’s because the global leadership on display – in the shape of the US Presidency and Britain’s “strong and stable” Prime Minister – strikes me as decidedly uninspiring, to put it diplomatically. Maybe it’s just because I miss Michelle – sorry, I mean, Barack – Obama.
It is not lost on me that my fixation on developing leadership qualities is totally pointless and mad as I have no-one to lead. I have worked freelance for the past seventeen years. I have no staff and don’t ever plan to hire any. (What would they do? Change my printer ink? Actually, that would be quite helpful. But, then, what would be the point of being married?) But the leadership books all make an excellent argument for using leadership skills to manage your life better, figure out what you want and be more direct. What if we all became better leaders of ourselves?
The latest guru to impress me is Diana Jones, author of Leadership Material: How Personal Experience Shapes Executive Presence (Nicholas Brearley Publishing). Diana Jones is a non-nonsense executive coach from New Zealand who has a name which sounds like it comes straight from the cast list for Working Girl. She also has the shoulder pads and houndstooth suit jackets to match if her website is anything to go by, which only endears me to her more. Jones is brilliant at giving practical, simple advice that makes you look like a leader: decisive, relaxed, in control.
According to Jones, there is a series of things you should be doing at work in order to (a) get along with people without being a pushover and (b) not go postal because you are taking on too much and being too much of a “yes” woman. Here is what you should be doing a lot of:
– Looking at people when you speak to them. (Sounds like a no-brainer but we’ve all worked with people who look at the floor, the ceiling or the breasts of their interlocutor.)
– Pausing between sentences. (Again. Sounds easy. But, guess what, listen to yourself!)
– Saying hello and introducing yourself to new people. (Again. Sounds idiotic. But how many of us actually do it – and willingly?)
Isn’t this just a wonderful guide to life? And wouldn’t you just love to have someone who embodies all these qualities as your leader? Wouldn’t you just love it if you were this person?
– Being deliberate with when to contribute and when not to. (Crucial. Don’t just speak for the sake of speaking as I usually do.)
– Using “I want” when you want to say something: “I want this by the end of today.” (I love this! If I could be this direct, I would be talking to Vladimir Putin right now. The war in Syria would have ended. Everyone would have free Aperol for life.)
– Saying no without an explanation. (Living the dream!)
– Saying “That’s not possible” to impossible requests. (Living the ultimate dream!)
– Saying what you want to say simply and succinctly. (I can but dream. I’m trying, OK? Really, though, why say things simply and succinctly when you could waffle on with a load of wittery nonsense which circles around and never quite gets to the point? You see now why I am not a leader or even someone with a real job.)
Isn’t this just a wonderful guide to life? And wouldn’t you just love to have someone who embodies all these qualities as your leader? Wouldn’t you just love it if you were this person? Jones argues that if you can do all these things, you will “do a good job; solve significant problems; and build great relationships.” I am so ready. Now, where did I put that mirror so that I can talk to the person I need to lead?