Monday, 10 June 2013


Over the last few days on Twitter, Girlguiding's official account (@Girlguiding) has been asking people to define what makes a great leader, and even to sum it up in three words.

It got me thinking about leadership and the different types of leader out there. For a start, there are politicians, teachers, business leaders, church leaders, leaders in Guiding and Scouting, supervisors and managers, heads of state, directors... the list goes on.

And in each situation, the qualities needed for effective leadership differ, as indeed they should. In fact, as a mentor and Young Leader Co-Ordinator, one of the things I stress to my mentees is that they shouldn't follow a template to become a "good leader", but rather play to their own strengths and become a valuable part of their leadership team. In one activity in the Young Leader Qualification, the girls are asked to observe other leaders and pick things that they like, things that they don't think would suit them and identify leadership styles they would like to try.

You see, just as every individual is different, so is every leader. Our personalities, skills and past experiences all contribute to how we act, react and work with our groups. Whether that be comfort in a supporting role, or a hyper-awareness of risks and danger, we all bring baggage and a lot of that can be turned to our advantage.

But in thinking of all the different leadership roles and the different approaches to leadership, is there anything in common? My gut reaction was that they were too distantly removed from each other, but yet they all involve taking responsibility and surely there are other common requirements too.

After looking carefully at the list, there was one thing that was necessary in all lines, whatever style of leadership or approach you take. And it just so happens that it's something Girlguiding puts a lot of emphasis on. The common quality is understanding the needs of those that you lead.

Whether you're a politician understanding your constituents' concerns, a teacher understanding the attainment and progress of your pupils or a business director understanding the strengths of your employees, that understanding underpins everything that you do as a leader.

It's the same in Guiding. We look at the girls and young women in our groups, look at their needs and also what they want to do. We learn to understand them, their personalities, what works for them and how they operate. We adapt our style of leadership to suit their needs, but it's all done with them in mind.

Even our Promise, the common standard to which we all commit (or work towards), is based on this key principle. It teaches us to think outside ourselves, to think about the world around us and the people around us. Right from the moment our girls start Rainbows, we are teaching them the fundamental principle of leadership; to understand others.

As they grow and develop, so does their leadership potential through the programme we offer. The girl-only space encourages exploration and self-confidence, reviewing their own progress for their yearly challenge badges in Guides, as well as the self-discipline and planning (and presentations!) required for the Baden Powell Challenge. Brownies can be sixers, Guides can be Rainbow or Brownie helpers or patrol leaders. Senior Section members have hundreds of different leadership options open to them, each age group having a few more doors opened to them, a few more skills that can be honed.

Today, I met one of my Guides in staff briefing. When I say "one of my Guides", she was one of the younger girls when I was a Young Leader. She's now a teacher. And although she is still quite hesitant and has her own brand of leadership, she told me that it's the skills she learnt back then that helped her develop her sense of self within the classroom, and that self-confidence and smaller chances to lead that led her into teaching.

It's easy to overgeneralise when speaking about leadership. To assume that a good leader needs to follow a certain recipe, but as long as we put those we are leading at the centre of our efforts, then we won't stray too far from the path.

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