Musings on Leadership

Ever since I took on the role of co-ordinator of Green and Away, I have worried and agonised over my leadership style.  There are so many ways to lead, some good and some uphelpful and not every style is applicable to every situation whilst the ego just adds to the confusion by lapping up any kudos associated with the role.

Over recent years, and amongst the less structured, green organisations a different style has emerged that some have called flat management.  This is where there is no-one in overall charge and responsibility and management comes from a team of people.  This works very well for some organisations, especially where each member of the management team has a specific job and there is plenty of time to discuss each and every decision to get a concensus of opinion. The advantage is that it allows for creativity and innovation to arise and for everyone to contribute what they want. The disadvantage is that one needs a great deal more time to achieve the aims if they are realised at all.  This is directly opposite to the traditional way of one person taking overall responsibility and making nearly all the decisions. The advantage of this way is that it is strong and focused and the aim is very likely to be achieved but it can be stiffling of creativity and lessens feelings of ownership by the workforce.

In my opinion neither style would work well with Green and Away.  If we had the flat management style and long discussions about every issue we would never get the centre built, never mind being in a state to host conferences.  If we had the old strong tradition of leadership and I imposed my will on all aspects of the project, it is likely we would alienate or loose our volunteer work force.  The beauty of working with volunteers is that they force a different positive approach. They are our most valuble resource, but one that has the capacity to vote with their feet; if they are not happy then our resource is gone.  The balance between facitiating our aim of building and running G & A with keeping people working hard and enjoying it, is a difficult one.

So far I have led by gut instinct but not always trusted it.  Last weekend we had a social gathering of volunteers and trustees.  Rather than tell everyone what to do, I stepped back to see what would happen with minimal coordination.  We got through the weekend fine but time was wasted in working out what walks to do and waiting for people who did not know they were being waited for.  Meals were cooked and dishes were done but some people did more than their fair share while others contributed rather less.  There was less focus and less to do.  I think the weekend was a good experience for most people but it could have run rather more smoothly with more direction.  None of this mattered for an informal gathering but during our set up phase, when there is a whole conference centre to build in 12 days we have to have more focus.

The answer to what style of leadership suits Green and Away best is one that is firm and focused yet soft and adaptive depending on the situation. It needs to be both soft in an adaptive, yeilding way to encourage creativity, but firm of boundaries and to keep the focus on the aim.  To achieve this requires constant vigilence and always keeping a balance between the best interests of the organisation as whole with the needs of of the workforce.

Fortunately I am supported by a wonderful bunch of people who make up the Trustee body and who have responsiblity for various departments.  Out of season we have the time to talk through all the various decisions to reach agreement on the way forward and my job then is to impliment those decisions once on site.  It is a way of working that has evolved over 20 years and one that seems to work very well.

Meanwhile I will now trust to my gut instinct that has served me so well so far.

Preparing for the morning briefing

About Helen Cranston

Helen's primary work takes her to Sinai, Egypt as Project Manager for the Makhad Trust. She continues to work as a Nutritonal Therapist on an occasional basis and has over 20 years experience.
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