Hitting reset on what it means to be a leader

Hitting reset on what it means to be a leader

Can you be a leader if you’re not a, b, or c? We explore how great leadership isn’t about changing who you are – it’s about owning your unique personal style…

We’ve learned a lot about what great leadership looks like over the past few years. We may have also learned what it doesn’t look like.

However, one concern that often comes up in the Insights community is the question mark around whether we need to show up in a certain way at work to be successful in our leadership career.

Often, people may think they have to be more ‘something’ than what feels comfortable [insert: assertive, analytical, authoritarian, etc]  to be successful as a leader, because for a long time that was the only model of leadership we knew.

However, if we look around the world right now, we  see lots of examples of great leadership that challenge those traditional models. We’re now seeing more of a focus on awareness, empathy and compassion, and it’s gaining traction. For example, Forbes provide a compelling case for why authoritarian styles of leadership are no longer sustainable, and won’t survive into the future. LinkedIn called compassion the “leadership superpower” we all need. Another study certainly supports that superpower status, showing how compassionate leadership can result in increased engagement, improved wellbeing, and increased productivity.


Leadership and the language of colour

It’s interesting to look at this through the lens of Insights language of colour.

If you’re familiar with Insights methodology, you’ll know that compassion is a characteristic that's most closely associated with those who lead with Earth Green energy.

Right now, it feels like an essential trait. We all need understanding, empathy and kindness as we navigate through challenging circumstances, right? However, those aren’t the only things we need...

We need what each one of the colour energies can bring. Each one brings something different, and each one has value.

There’s the dynamism and creativity of those who lead with Sunshine Yellow energy that motivates and inspires us, the strong-will and drive of those who lead with Fiery Red energy that keeps us on track, and the careful analysis and questioning nature of those who lead with Cool Blue energy, that puts the brakes on our jumping head first into something without due care.

In fact, at Insights we believe there are eight leadership dimensions, each underpinned by the language of colour, that impact how leaders show up in their day to day working life.

Ultimately, there’s no one way to be a successful leader. Everyone has a unique set of natural attributes, and when you know and understand what they are, you can play to your strengths. You don’t have to lose who you are when you’re a leader, you can lean into it.


Leadership skills are crucial at all levels (not just the C-suite) 

Now onto our second point, which is that it might also be the time to reframe what we consider to be leadership.

For a long time, when we thought about leaders, we’d think about ‘the boss’. The person in the boardroom, the person heading up the team, and the person in the suit – whatever gender they happen to be. The person in charge.

The last few years has forced us to challenge these abstract and cliched ideas of what leadership is.

The pandemic played a part in accelerating the stripping back of those layers of presenteeism we’d grown familiar with; the suits disappeared, for one, and the visibility of hierarchical structures was much diminished with so many people working from home. Subsequent challenges like labour shortages -and now layoffs- exacerbated our shifting awareness about the true meaning of leadership.

We learned that these images we conjure up of a leader often simply play to stereotype, and that’s never helpful. Today we need to consider how leadership can look for all of us as we move into the future.

Aren’t many – if not all of us – leaning on our leadership skills in one way or another?

We may not be leading a team of people, but we’re certainly having to draw on that pool of skills and qualities that leaders use day to day. We use our negotiation skills in our conversations with stakeholders, we level up our powers of persuasion to ensure we secure crucial internal buy-in, and we listen to – and act on – what our customers really want from us. Many of us are leading on a critical area in our organisation, so does that not make us leaders in some way?

It’s for this reason we do a disservice when we don’t develop leaders at all levels. It’s never just about the C-suite. It’s about increasing leadership capability across the whole organisation to ensure that your people are primed to lead through whatever challenges the future presents.


Our leadership solution, The Self-Aware Leader, develops leaders at every level of your organisation. If you’d like to find out how we can support your leaders please get in touch today.