Leadership dilemmas

Among the big things that Smurfit offers is the opportunity to learn about and enrich ourselves. One of these points came during the conflict resolution and mediation workshop carried out in February this year. We had to role play a few different conflict situations and see what we learnt from these interactions.

In one of the situations, I was the leader of a project where the team had three staff with excellent competencies and the fourth member was a new staff in the company. My leadership style is very much a mentoring-coaching-facilitating style, so during the (pretend) conflict, I tried to listen as much as I could to what the team members had to say and asked them how they thought the issue should be solved. Time ran out, and we weren’t able to fully close the issue.

The feedback I received from one of my role-play group mates was – “you’re the nicest leader” before she shot the steel bullet, “I was waiting for you to give the direction, but you never did.” She was frank, and I really appreciate that. This comment hit a really strong cord in me because in my previous life, the first time I had people formally report to be at work, that was the same feedback I felt they were giving me (though they never said it aloud, in retrospect, I knew sometimes they needed my direction more than my ears).

Leadership is very contextual. Despite the amount of literature doled out on the importance of being humble leaders, facilitating leaders, coaching leaders, empathetic leaders, at times a leader has to be what he has to be – give the directions strong and clear. The question is, sometimes you don’t know which situation you are in, and which role you should play. And often, just reading Harvard Business Review articles or Academy of Leadership journals don’t prepare you for the real role you have to play when you’re in those shoes. In the real world, you just have to learn to lead and think on your feet. Read, do, think, get feedback, improvise and keep getting better.

Nur Zahirah M Sukran

– Nur Zahirah M Sukran, FT MBA 2012/13