Thursday, 10 October 2013

So, what is leadership?

I work for Merlin, the charity that has just become part of Save the Children. It’s a time with lots of changes and challenges.

I’ve just spent the last week on a Leadership Development Programme. An intense, immersive, tiring, but ultimately exhilarating, experience.

I learned a lot on the course. About myself. About others. And about how ‘myself’ can work with – and for - others. I saw some of my behaviours reflected back at me – and some pleased me, some shocked me.

I wrote a lot of things down and just wanted to share some of the points/ideas/thoughts that resonated the most. You may have heard some, all, none of this. But read on. Something may resonate with you too.

Think of someone whose leadership you admire

We were asked to think about the essence of their personality, their moral compass, how they respond in the moment and how they look for collaboration.

Interestingly the names that people mentioned were world figures. People like Churchill, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Angela Merkel and more.

But who sprung to my mind? Actually, it was someone closer to home. Someone who I admire in the fundraising sector, someone who I do count as a friend, but whom I see achieve great things with her team, and who does display courage, who always remains optimistic.Who accepts their weaknesses, and who builds excellent teams - and brings out the best in them.

So, think about these people, and why you would follow them. And ask yourself, why should anyone be led by you?

Follow your passion and you will find your purpose

And others will follow. Can you be a leader without the ability to know when to follow? Ask yourself, what was I born to do as a leader? What is your leadership signature – what makes you unique and different?

I heard that the 1st rule of leadership is ‘know thyself.’ And that the 2nd rule is ‘be yourself more with skill.’

Importantly, and for someone who is terrified by being perceived as weak, I learned that it’s ok to reveal a weakness. It’s what you do about it that counts.

Focus on the things you can influence

This felt particularly poignant at this point in my career, and really helped me think about my behaviour and what I could influence.  There was talk of reducing your circle of concern and increasing your circle of influence.

Put simply, there are things that you simply can’t change, so use your energy to focus on the areas you can. And just by shifting my focus I feel more in control. I feel better for it.

The people

As a manager/leader it’s easy to spend lots of time on the people that don’t perform as well. You want them to grow, learn and develop. But don’t forget to spend as much time with your best people. If you spend all your focus on those who need more development you deprive yourself of the opportunity to be motivated and invigorated by them, their ideas and their energy.

What does inspiration actually mean? We talk a lot about inspiring leaders but what does someone ‘inspire’ you to do?  You might find them motivating or engaging, but did they actually inspire you to anything? 

However, this brings to mind the words of that great philosopher, Dolly Parton: “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”

Leaders set the standards of behaviour and the culture of an organisation. So think about what you want to demonstrate. A great quality is optimism. Wouldn’t you rather work in a culture that is positive and optimistic? If so, set these standards. People rarely leave brands – they leave bad managers and leaders.

And on those ponderings I will leave you. There are more, but this post is getting long. Any more, please do leave them in the comments.


Danielle Atkinson


  1. This is brilliant, Danielle. Thanks for sharing, some great tips here at a really helpful time for me. Hope that things work out to a good conclusion for you and things feel more settled soon.

  2. Never had Dolly Parton down as a great philosopher but there's always a first time for everything!

  3. I love this post. Honest and raw. Awesome. You rock D.

  4. tracy mullenborn8 November 2013 at 16:01

    a great post full of inspiration!!!

  5. Agreed,TheFamily inspired most of your post.

    Thanks with it.