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What is leadership? And are you enough of a leader to be part of Leaders for Leeds?

‘We think that everyone can be a leader. You may be in a formal leadership role, or doing great work to get things done during tough times, or doing inspirational things whilst trying to avoid the label of ‘leader’

Leaders for Leeds

What is leadership? And what does it take to qualify as a member of Leaders for Leeds?

These were the questions we began to ask ourselves at the recent Culture of Co-operation event hosted at the University of Leeds, in a small group discussion about how we can strengthen, broaden and deepen involvement in the network.

We immediately came up against the ‘what is leadership?’ question. Now I know there are tons of books written on this topic, but instead of referencing the literature, I’d rather draw on our conversation which went a bit like this:

Might the word ‘leadership’ be a bit off-putting to some people who could make a valuable contribution to the network? Do you have to be pretty confident in the first place to regard yourself as a leader? What if people confuse leadership with management and think they’re not allowed to come along? Is there another way of framing the network so that it appeals to a wider range of people who might more readily identify as an activist than a leader? Wouldn’t more diversity and variety in the network be more likely to stimulate different ways of thinking or should we just be clear about who it is and isn’t for? And so on…

Now our group up was made up of chief executives and directors but we pretty much all fessed up to a moment where we had wondered if we were enough of a leader to participate in Leaders for Leeds. So I reckon if we’ve all thought that way, then many more will have asked the same question of themselves, and that some will have decided the answer is ‘no’. Since the event, I’ve tested my hypothesis out with various people who I know are trying to make a difference in Leeds, and they’ve confirmed our view – they love the idea of the network but they don’t necessarily think it’s for them and they’re not necessarily willing to dedicate time to it when they have so many time pressures.

The recent Leaders for Leeds evaluation report identifies breadth of participation as one of six key themes for the network to pay attention to, so it’s reassuring that our group discussion reflects wider conversations. Is there another way of framing this network of fascinating, imaginative and inspiring people who want to make a positive difference to Leeds, in a way that means we are likely to increase the breadth and diversity of participation?

I am sorry to tell you that our group didn’t have a lightning flash of inspiration and I’m pretty sure there isn’t going to be one single answer, but each of us taking personal responsibility to pay attention to the question is a good starting point. Every one of us can take responsibility for connecting with our own personal and professional networks to encourage people from different walks of life to get involved. And as they do the same we may begin to create a ripple effect. And perhaps we should downplay the leadership bit and focus more on the making a difference bit which is what I personally find most compelling about the network. In fact could we re-frame Leaders for Leeds as Making a Difference in Leeds? Does this capture the purpose and avoid some of the barriers associated with the ‘L’ word?

There are of course many other challenges and opportunities for increasing access to Leaders for Leeds, such as physical access and times of day when events are held, we discussed these and many other issues too. This post is about just one consideration. How important do you think it is? And is it worth more of a conversation?


1 Response

  1. John Farenden

    I so agree with Victoria.

    Our group had similar thoughts – we thought we might want to be seen as “Doers for Leeds”. Anyone can lead. They don’t need a title or permission; they just have to step up and declare they want to make a difference.

    And it doesn’t have to be heroic one-person over-the-top leadership; it’s about a working as a team. So when someone says “I want to make a difference to … reduce fuel poverty / stop unnecessary deaths from diabetes / help unemployed youngsters into work..” then they do that knowing that there are others in the network who they can call on for help, support and advice. I love the idea that we play as a city-wide team, valuing the diversity that comes from being so n inclusive, and leaving any preconceptions about “big business”, “public services” or “third sector” at the door. After all, the only common thing about all of us at the event last week is that we all want to make a positive difference and make our city the best city in the UK in a way that is meaningful to each of us. And we can all do that in different ways – as much as in supporting and helping others as in setting the direction. Team Leeds.

    As Victoria says, we all have other demands on our time – whether work, family or whatever – so it has to be OK to ask for help and support but it also has to be OK to say “no”, or perhaps “not right now”. But with a wide and inclusive network it only needs a couple of sparks to light a fire. Perhaps that’s the answer. Firelighters for Leeds !