On Monday, Seth Godin’s blog caught my attention. He was writing about famous conductors. What we see is an hour or two of them standing on stage “wear(ing) expensive clothes, mak(ing) dramatic gestures and receiving(ing) ovations.” We see the public version of leadership. But Godin follows that with a list of actions and behaviors that we never see, but are critical to the effectiveness of the orchestra and whether or not the musicians perform well together. (Link below.) Godin describes it as a private form of leadership.
It’s unusual to think of leadership as private. We usually think of leadership as the most public of acts, but what he’s pointing to is some of the most important work of leadership. Think of the iceberg analogy. The public part of leadership is really just the part we see above the waterline. Much of the work of leaders happens before they stand up in front of a crowd or meet with a single individual. Most of the elements Godin list as ‘private’ are not public as in standing up in front of a group, but those tasks still involve working with people in one way or another.
But there is internal work leaders need to do as well. Leaders need to find time to read and study and learn new ways of leading. We need to define our values and what’s important to us and to our organization. Leaders need to pay attention to organizational changes, to external shifts and, in the case of higher education, changes in the needs and experiences of students. Leaders must find time in their busy and hectic schedules for private time to reflect, strategize, and absorb all that is coming at them. It’s very private work.
On the opposite end of the scale the work we often call ‘face time’ is a critical component of leadership as well, isn’t it? Face time, showing up at student events, attending programs designed by your staff, joining departmental staff meetings, and creating opportunities to meet both colleagues and students. is essential. A leader’s presence conveys support for the work being done. Attending meetings and meeting informally with people gives them the opportunity to know the person and what they care about beyond their official role.
As I work with leaders across campuses during this time, we have discussed the challenges in meeting both the public and private aspects of leadership. It’s challenging to find time to do the internal work in the best of times and these are not the best of times. As for the public work, it’s even more challenging than usual since we can only gather in limited and specific circumstances. And yet, in difficult times, both types of work are as important as ever, perhaps even more so. How are you finding ways to do the inner and outer, the public and private work of leadership? If you are struggling with finding the time and space, I encourage you to think about ways you can be present, even if virtually. What are ways you can create opportunities for yourself to do some of the inner work of leadership and how can you support others in finding that time for themselves?