What does becoming a leader in your own life look like?

Alisa Camplin reflects on the qualities of effective leadership – and how you can develop them.

Our expectations of leaders and leadership have changed. Historically, when you spoke about a leader, you’d picture a middle-aged white male commanding a boardroom meeting or a strong autocratic army general leading his troops. Now, we appreciate that excellent leaders can be of any age, gender or race and we understand that leadership is about so much more than just telling people what to do.

A good leader inspires people, they move them, and they help raise them up to achieve their ultimate potential. They also bring the right people together and help them work effectively as a team, so greater things can be achieved. So, how can you foster those qualities in yourself and take on a leadership role within your own life – whether at work, at home, or in your friendship group?

Inspiring others

A good first place to start when thinking about yourself as a leader is considering your impact on other people. This requires understanding who you are, what your strengths are and consistently living in accordance with your values – as well as emotional intelligence and ongoing self-awareness. An effective leader possesses a growth mindset and practises realistic optimism, and they work to cultivate these skills within their workplace culture as well as the individuals in their life. A person who is confident in themselves and brings a positive mindset is contagious; this goes a long way in kindling inspiration and passion in others.

It’s hard to lead, or in fact to follow, if you don’t know where you are going. So, it’s important to be able to articulate your vision or goal clearly. More than that, though, you must get people excited about coming on that journey with you. It’s not just getting from point A to point B. It’s about connecting directly with people’s inner ‘WHY’ so they feel inspired to embark on the journey with you, knowing that you’ll be there to help them learn and grow along the way. Being a leader isn’t just about getting what you – or your organisation – wants, it’s about what everyone else can gain too.

When I built my team to help prepare me for the Salt Lake City Olympics, connecting my goal of medalling at the Games to the broader personal and professional goals that my sport psychologist and technical coach had was key to our ultimate success – and, importantly, our joy in working together. When everyone is invested in and benefiting from the journey, there is a much higher likelihood of positive outcomes.

A good leader adapts

According to the Harvard Business Review, there are six styles of leadership. Given my sporting background, I tend to gravitate towards a coaching style. It’s important to know what your go-to style is, but also to be able adapt – or adopt a different style – as required for different situations. For example, in times of struggle or chaos people look towards an autocratic style of leadership. You need someone to take control and set a direction and agenda. But if you led that way all the time, you’d end up with a disengaged team and an uncomfortable cultural climate.

The best chairman I ever worked for was fantastic at altering his style for different circumstances, which enabled him to get the best out of the management team and the diverse array of people on the board. Watching him in action really inspired me to practise the use of different styles of leadership myself. I try to use fewer familiar styles with my children and in comfortable social situations just to get more practice – and it’s amazing what I’m learning along the way.

Emotional intelligence is a must-have

This is where emotional intelligence (EI) gives you a huge advantage. EI helps you better recognise the true situation at hand, as well as the personal or emotional nuances of what’s going on. This insight helps you adopt the best leadership style in the moment or, perhaps better still, choosing not to lead at all. Sometimes a good leader just needs to listen or opt to let natural consequences play out. This applies as much in business as it does in your own household. Imagine a family fight at Christmas, for example. A leader with strong EI will first assess what’s required and then determine what leadership position they should take. Is it about adopting a primary role and intervening? Or is it about waiting and letting others hash things out, perhaps facilitating the conversation or being a clarifying voice at the end of the situation? It’s always going to depend on the circumstances, and that’s why investing in the breadth and development of your EI is so valuable.

As a parent your leadership is regularly tested. Of course, it can be frustrating at times, but it does force you to experiment with different types of influence and expand your negotiating skills. Sure, I can tell my kids, “This is what we’re doing.” But I know that will be received with, “Why? I don’t want to. Why do we have to?” Children aren’t always rational, which means sometimes you need to get very creative. You also need to change your pitch to suit your younger audience, articulating what you’re trying to do and why you’re doing it. You need to get them excited, by using simple reasoning and/or incentives that will engage them with the task at hand. Thinking on your feet, genuinely understanding the needs of your audience and adapting in the moment are key attributes of a leader.

Be a whole person

Sometimes, it’s easier to identify what you’re looking for in a leader by putting yourself in the position of a follower. I know that I want leaders around me to care about me – as a whole person – not just as an employee. When I feel cared about and psychologically safe, I am more likely to push out of my comfort zone and take risks. Because if I fail, then I trust that they will be there to catch me. I want to know that my leader has my back, and they respect and value the multiple dimensions of who I am – and ultimately that they want to help me succeed. This is probably the primary trait of my best professional mentor and why I value his insight and support so much.

We all want to feel like we belong, and can live and work true to ourselves, so that’s why I put so much personal emphasis on really knowing the people I work with. When you know someone more broadly and deeply, you build stronger bonds and can more readily help them to become their best self.

Lead by example

I think to be a great leader these days, you also need to role model a more holistic approach to work and life. You need to be able to open-up and have real conversations with other people, bringing a greater sense of wellbeing to those around you. You also need to walk the talk and demonstrate positive and balanced behaviours that align with the values of your workplace or community.

For example, there is no point giving ‘employee of the month’ to the salesperson who’s up on their numbers but a nightmare to work with, because it sends the wrong message to the rest of the team. You also can’t spout the merits of work/life balance if you are a burnt-out workaholic who is successful in one aspect of your life, while the rest is a total catastrophe – that is not sustainable or inspiring to others. Of course, we’re all multi-dimensional people who are continually learning and growing, and nobody is perfect. But great leaders tend to embody an authentic human element and consistently demonstrate positive behaviours that make others trust and want to follow them.

Becoming a leader in your own life

A helpful way to start becoming more of a leader in your own life is to think of yourself as a business. If I am the CEO of ‘Alisa Inc’, what’s my product or service? What do I do? What is the long-term strategy for my business and therefore what are the short- and medium-term goals that need to be achieved? What resources do I need, where do I need to invest, and what strategic risks should I take? What needs to change or improve so my business can grow?

Once you’ve defined what you do and where you are going, next consider your communications and marketing plan. How do you communicate what you do? How will you promote the unique and positive impact that your product or service creates? Finally, as CEO, you need to worry about the sustainability of ‘Alisa Inc’ – what needs to happen to keep the product or service fresh and quality high? Is rest and renewal adequately considered?

When you think about yourself as a business, and adopt the role of CEO, you can take a more clinical view of things. You force yourself to think more like a leader. When challenging or difficult situations arise in your life, you can use this technique to take away the emotions and shift into a more analytical or problem-solving mode. On the flip side, when opportunities present, try thinking like a leader in the tech world. CEOs of these businesses are usually entrepreneurial and innovative and need to embrace a degree of risk. They don’t keep things flat and stay the course, they push into new frontiers. They put fear of failure aside, think creatively and find the courage to evolve. But they’re not reckless. Rather, they seek advice, do the preparation, and then they back themselves. As the leaders of our own lives, we can do this too.

Leadership takes practice

There are many ways to lead, and it just takes practice to develop your skills and your own style. Not all of us want to be leaders, but from time to time both big and little leadership is required of us. We all need to be followers at different points too, so it’s important not to be fixed in your thinking about who you are. Our leadership capacity grows over time as we practise and learn through life’s experiences. What’s important is that we continue being curious about ourselves and we enjoy discovering what kind of person we can become.

A former world champion aerial skier, Alisa Camplin made sporting history in 2002 as the first ever Australian woman to win gold at the Winter Olympics. After 18 years as a global corporate executive, Alisa now juggles a mix of sport, business, consulting, charity and governance roles. No stranger to physical and emotional trials, Alisa runs Resilience and High-Performance programs to assist others in achieving their full potential.


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