Saturday 20 January 2018

God-given strengths, personality and leadership styles

Once again, I am blogging from an airport departure lounge. Ahead of me lies a week of setting up a new project, working on three existing projects and meeting some existing and new collaborators to brainstorm about ideas and future proposals. This is the kind of work that I've been involved with for some time, but one difference is that I am taking the lead on the newest project. Whilst this is an exciting step, and could be seen as a logical career progression, it has made me somewhat nervous. I've found myself more anxious about aspects of the work than usual, and being plagued by doubts that 'I can't do this!' Recently I came across the concept of 'imposter syndrome' - and that is exactly how I have been feeling.

Whilst recognising that there are certain personality traits that might predispose me to feel like an 'imposter', even more helpful has been consideration of personality types and leadership styles. I did a leadership course quite a number of years ago, which was where I first came across the concept; however, at that time, we were not really given much information as to what that might mean in terms of channelling our strengths and working on our weaker areas. More recently, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership course which was quite different - attendees were all in leadership roles and had diverse experiences to draw from, and this made the discussion rich. I have also been blessed with a friend who regularly teaches on these topics and has a strong biblical perspective on life too.

If you haven't come across the 16 personality types, you can take this quiz and read some of the related articles. I'll explain some of the things I have found most helpful:

1. That different personality types are valid, indeed God-given. For a very long time, I felt that to be a 'leader' I would need to have an overhaul of my natural personality. I would look at other people, and see the qualities which I desired (confidence, strength, an ability to have people follow you, an ability to maintain a very high standard of discipline among team members) and feel that I 'didn't have what it takes'. However, when I open my eyes and look around, I see that there are many other equally useful styles (summarised to an extent here). Reading the Bible, there are many different styles of leadership - each with its strengths and its weaknesses. Previously I would try and force myself to act in a way which did not feel natural, and this was stressful. I have come to understand that a lot of leadership is understanding ourselves, and building on those strengths whilst being honest about the weaker areas and seeking to develop those. For me, this has been very liberating. (And if you are interested, this is roughly what I come out as): An Advocate, or INFJ, with some turbulence)

2. That different approaches are required in different situations. In our church small-group, we've been considering what love is. I have found it interesting to reflect on how we can stereotype 'love', but when you look at how Jesus responded to different individuals, He was always motivated by love, but expressed it very differently according to the situation. For example, He was very direct with the Pharisees, challenging them and describing them in quite harsh terms (such as 'whitewashed tombs'). He responded very gently to the woman caught in adultery as he reminded those around her that none of us is free from sin. He challenged the rich young ruler by asking him questions in return. He was gentle and accepting of the children who came to Him. Perhaps this doesn't apply directly to leadership, but it reminds me that there is often not just one approach or style when it comes to our relationship with others. Some may come more naturally, but others should be used in some situations. My example in leadership is that I find it much easier to be gentle and draw alongside my team members, trying to understand where they are coming from and motivate them towards the goal. However, there are times, particularly when it comes to the high standards of quality required in the projects, when I have to be stricter and point out that things need to improve. Other people I work with find the former more difficult and are excellent at the latter.

3. In terms of personality types, I found it helpful to recognise that although I work in teams, as both a leader and a member, and do a fair bit of public speaking, I am much more introverted. I think I had previously thought of an 'introvert' as a socially awkward person who would blame their personality for not making any effort socially. However it isn't that (and if you are an introvert reading this, you might be laughing at me for having to say this). It is much more to do with what you find energising and refreshing. I love to be around people, but I find it exhausting. I'd not really understood why this was before. It also helped me to understand that going for a long run in the mornings when I am travelling for work is not just a luxury, but something quite important for me to be able to perform at my best. It has made me understand a little bit of why I've been feeling quite tired and burnt out lately - that I have struggled to get time to recharge. I do not wish to use it as an excuse, but rather to understand how to function best.

4. I have previously heard Christians dismiss things like leadership training as 'psychobabble' or being worldly wisdom and not something we should pay attention to. However, I would disagree - I am seeing it as an ability to understand how God made people, in all their beauty and diversity. I see it as a tool - not to be held rigidly, but to be useful in helping us understand ourselves and others, and being able to give grace to ourselves and others.

5. Appreciating that leadership and personal development is as important an aspect of the work as the scientific disciplines - the more I read and learn, the more some of the situations I have encountered in the past start to make sense. In almost every conflict or relationship breakdown, I can see different personality styles at play, and start to see that there could perhaps have been a better outcome if there had been greater understanding of these factors. More personally, I see it as very important to my own emotional health, to take time to reflect on this.

So, what am I going to do differently? A recent, and not fully resolved episode of exhaustion (possibly something like 'burnout', possibly a bout of depression) has made me appreciate the need to put into place some definite changes, and reflection on my God-given personality and changing roles with increasing leadership responsibilities has helped me recognise what some of these need to be. Here are some examples for now:

1. Firstly, finding somebody who I can trust to mentor me in this process - I am very thankful for that. Also, with two colleagues who also attended the leadership course, we are setting up a small leadership group where we will meet regularly to discuss challenges and developments.

2. Blocking regular time off in the diary. Because my current job does not require my husband or I to book leave significantly in advance, it has been easy just not to take the leave. Something always crops up, a meeting, an emergency, a situation, a deadline. However, we need time away - and so have put some days into the diary.

3. Setting aside an hour a week for personal/leadership development - to read and reflect on this topic

4. Making sure I get enough exercise - when I work from the clinic, I walk 45 minutes each way which is a wonderful time for rest and reflection, but on the days when I work from home, I miss that very much. Realising that enables me to try and get out for a run on those days too.

5. Being honest about the challenges - and the things I am learning. It is so easy to feel you are alone when things are tough, but I am increasingly recognising that a lot of how I have been feeling lately is more common.