Leadership is a set of behaviours, rather than a role for heroes.

Updated: Nov 5, 2018

M. Wheatley

It's not what you say, it's what you do that counts.

Witnessing the whole farce that was the selection of the USA Supreme Court Judge, Bret Kavanaugh was like watching a crap movie that is just too unrealistic. My 13 year old daughter was so moved by the whole fiasco she chose to use it for her annual school public speaking competition.

The fact that several women have accused Brett Kavanaugh of improper sexual conduct should have been a reason for the Senate to adopt the precautionary principle and to have chosen an alternative candidate. But no. And one of the most worrying parts of this whole farce was Kavanaugh’s behaviour during his testimony.

His demeanour was unbecoming of a supreme court judge. Improper and discouraging given that he will represent American justice. His self-pity, sense of entitlement and political bias was the antithesis of what we might expect of a representative of the Supreme Court of the United States. He did not answer questions put to him and his behaviour in the Senate interview was not conducive to the respect needed by such a senior judge. And yet none of this was taken into account.

I've worked with senior leadership teams for over twenty years and cant imagine any of them behaving in that way. And yet he sailed through his job interview.

Last year in partnership with northpowerwomen.co.uk I conducted a research pilot to examine the psychological drivers and behaviours that have propelled and sustained a sample of leaders into senior positions mostly directors and senior managers from across the North of the UK.

Five themes emerged as being vital in becoming a successful leader:

1. Narrative Identity: This is the process of how individuals come to see themselves as leaders. None of the sample were 'born a leader' and most did not conform to the stereotypical journey of the young leadership executive. Rather they 'became' leaders through important factors such as a) finding a ’killer mentor;’ b) comparing themselves to those who are ‘successful’ and realising they could offer at least the same or more; c) finding the strength to step outside of their typical behaviour and ‘just go for it’ on occasions.

2. Find out who you are and step into yourself: A desire for self-awareness was key in their leadership journey. Importantly, authenticity, the ability to influence and modify ones own behaviour is driven through self-awareness.


3. Get out of your own way: Learning to overcome self-defeating behaviours is vital for leadership. For example, accepting that effort and frustration are inevitable parts of life; being able to fully grasp a problem, reframing and stay with finding the solution; planing ahead to foresee unexpected problems; exuding calmness; facing up to situations without delay; allocating sufficient time to priorities; not engaging in self-blame and criticism; discerning in terms of the limits of their own control or responsibility; meeting challenges with fortitude and resilience; letting go of the tensions of the day.

4. Drive and Achievement: A drive for achievement means a willingness to endure long hours, significant travel and time away from home. It values pragmatism, simplicity and ‘wanting to get the job done’. It provides the mental and physical energy required to sustain a leadership lifestyle.

5. Support Network: Valuing human connection for emotional, moral, psychological and practical reinforcement and surrounding themselves with people who believe in them. Ultimately, these connections contribute significantly to their ability to maintain their high profile leadership roles.

I wonder if Brett Kavanaugh needs a bit of refresher on the key behaviours of leadership?!

© 2019 MarieBurns