What is a Leader?

Shonagh MacRae

Catchphrases abound when it comes to leadership – servant leaders, transformational leaders, lead from behind, lead with purpose, get people on the bus or get them off the bus!

For our latest leadership ThoughtExchange, we hosted an online process in partnership with Deborah Connors, founder of The Better Workplace Conference and a pioneer in organizational health and workplace culture.

In this conversation over 150 Researchers, Senior Leaders and Organizational Development professionals discussed factors that characterize and improve culture as well as barriers to achieving a positive workplace culture. Whether you lead hundreds or a handful, the results of this ThoughtExchange offer insights and clear actions to build a positive culture in your workplace.

Through cohosting a discussion on positive culture at work, we learned that the key to effective leadership seems to be conversations. Open workplace conversations help you understand how your employees define good leadership, and in doing so, allow you to better support and empower the people you lead.

In this engagement, definitions of effective leadership varied. However, our interest analysis – where we examine patterns of how people put stars on thoughts – showed there were points of agreement.

“Leadership is action, not a position. Leaders who inspire, foster creativity; who mentor, build confidence; who listen, build respect; who model desired behaviours, receive the same in return. Leadership is not a title, it is about impact, influence and inspiration. Healthy cultures invite and encourage everyone to be a leader.”

-Actual Participant Thought, starred by 13 people at Creating a Positive Workplace Culture 2015

Despite finding agreement, there were also special interest thoughts – valued highly by a particular group of participants – that highlighted the varying definitions of good leadership. One set of thoughts focused on leadership trusting staff to solve problems:

“Trust, respect and gratitude. These elements build confidence and create opportunity to be a bit adventurous in solving work problems. They reinforce teamwork because they foster a mutually supportive work environment. Finally, they add some democracy because they are socially inclusive and enable contribution by all.”

-Actual Participant Thought, starred by 13 people at Creating a Positive Workplace Culture 2015

Another set of thoughts focused on creating a supportive environment through positive workplace interactions.

“Supportive leadership. Leaders who are accessible to their staff, pay attention to their needs, and support them to do their jobs effectively create a positive workplace culture.”

-Actual Participant Thought, starred by 15 people at Creating a Positive Workplace Culture 2015

Looking at just these different perspectives, it is clear that different people have different ideas about leadership. These ideas are filtered through the culture of the organization as well as the personal experiences that each person brings to their work-life.

Hosting a workplace conversation on leadership – how it is defined and actions that represent it – allows employees to share their thoughts and shape the culture at work. In turn, their perspectives help you better understand your team and determine the best avenues for leadership development so you can become a top leader in your organization.

Need help? ThoughtExchange provides group insight software and services that allow organizations to have meaningful and productive online conversations. Our simple, open-ended process ensures everyone can contribute, everyone learns from one another and important ideas emerge.

About the Author

Shonagh MacRae

Shonagh is our Director of Discover and describes herself as continually curious about people. This curiosity led her to a Master’s in Organizational Psychology where she learned a whole lot about how humans interact in groups and how to support them. Shonagh has also spent a lot of time in her community supporting at-risk populations. This work further honed her ability to connect with a broad range of personalities. When she’s not working with ThoughtExchange, Shonagh is most often found out in the garden with her hands in the soil.