The three things you can be doing to be an eclectic leader are:
1. Be comfortable in your own skin. Being eclectic needs to come from an organic base. You are building a style that works for ‘who’ you are. So, being comfortable with who you are is important. I know that, for some, this is easier said than done; however the more comfortable you are with being yourself and not feeling you have to be someone you’re not, the more natural being eclectic will feel. The key here is to have a sense of your beliefs and values. What is important to you? What do you stand for? What can you live with? What can you live without? There is no point looking to build a strong assertive style if your energy is more subdued and you value a more subtle or nuanced way of leading.
2. Look for Inspiration in "Out of the Way Places". When working out who you want to be as a leader and how you want to be leading, be prepared to get inspiration in places you least expect. As an example, if you want to find ways to keep things real whilst at the same time bringing a sense of optimism and hope to your style observe the style of people like Turia Pitt, Kurt Fearnley or go back a bit further and get acquainted with Helen Keller. When leading in times of uncertainty what better place to be looking for ideas on these leadership attributes than in the people who have had to achieve success in the most uncertain of circumstances.
3. Experiment and Evolve. If you are comfortable in your own skin, and getting good at observing those around you for ideas on leading, the next step is to start experimenting with different techniques, ways of thinking or behaviours until you get to a place where it becomes natural for you. A good sportsperson doesn’t just get that way. They practice. Sometimes they need to experiment with their style. And then practice some more until it becomes natural. It’s the same with being eclectic. Truly eclectic leaders don’t stop at the experimenting stage. They get that the world is continually changing and that over time they may need to tweak aspects of their style to remain relevant.
Being eclectic isn’t about giving yourself a makeover. It’s not about giving up who you are (unless it makes sense to let go of some stuff). It’s about understanding who you are and knowing where you could strengthen your style…then acknowledging that you could go some way to filling those gaps or enhancing your style by learning from the world around you. And being brave enough to look beyond your immediate environment and beyond your culture and your biases for those ideas.
I’ve just finished watching a short documentary on the making of the Brian Wilson album 'No Pier Pressure'. Anyone who knows me even moderately well will know my deep connection with his music from the time of the Beach Boys through until today. His eclectic style and ability to continuously learn and produce outstanding music is simply amazing.
What stood out for me most though is listening to the much younger artists he brought in for this album talk about their experience in working with him on this album.
All of them, Kasey Musgraves, Nate Reuss, Sebu, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward – a new generation of performers, all established in their own right, describing what it means to be engaged in the creative relationship with Brian Wilson. And all of them spoke about Brian’s desire for getting things right. Really right. Perfect even? And at the same time they spoke about Brian learning as he understood their voices, and folded that into his style to allow for a co-creation and perhaps an output that was better than what he originally had in mind from a production perspective. One of them also spoke of how Brian draws in the best musicians because he can get them to lift more than they normally would.
Then it hit me. What I was watching was a masterclass in engaging leadership.
He certainly has his ideas for how something should be, and the creative process is a high-risk environment. The risk being that your creativity can be trashed at the whim of the consumer and critics.
And leadership is no different.
Really good leadership is often about having an idea about where you are going and articulating that. At the same time it is about listening to your team and those around you, and being prepared to fold in their ideas to make the journey and outcome more effective than it was going to be. But where’s the risk in that? Well, anytime you are prepared to create a strategy, a plan for the future, a blue-print for a new product or service; you are putting your creative self out there for criticism. Show me anyone who has done this and I’ll bet that they can list at least one person who criticised what they proposed.
Beyond this, all of the younger musicians spoke about being inspired and lifted despite his drive for perfection. In fact, I would say a big part of the inspiration was because of his famous drive for perfection…for wanting to get things just right. How often do we hear the message that there is no such thing as perfection; and that’s true when it comes to ‘us’. As humans, we are only perfect whilst ever we are growing, developing, learning and seeking to do things better than we may have done it before. That is what I saw in that documentary; both from the actions of Brian Wilson and in the reflections of the younger artists.
I am a believer that an important part of leadership is not being prepared to settle for second-best; firstly in myself, and therefore in others. This also implies a wonderful thing. It means we believe that even when we do and celebrate great work, we also believe that the team can still lift some more. It means that when things don’t work out so well, we believe that our team can learn, grow and give it another go. That is a wonderful and inspiring belief to have as a leader. Belief in self and belief in others.
The minute we stop believing this, I think we start to reduce our impact as leaders; we commence the gradual erosion of engagement. So perhaps Brian Wilson brings something to the table when it comes to learning about engaging leadership? Perhaps a motto for being an engaging leader (and for life in general) can be found in the words of Brian Wilson...
"Beware the lollipop of mediocrity…lick it once and you’ll suck forever!”
The Key to Engaging Leadership? Eclectic Leadership
Eclectic leadership simply means that you don't ascribe to one single way of leading and having an open mind to possibilities. Importantly it allows for spontaneity, and a more natural leadership style to come through.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have the bigger picture in mind or a strategy for where you are leading the team. This is still an essential requirement…but how you get your team to the end goal is where being eclectic can be a huge advantage.
So what is an eclectic leadership style?
I will leave this insight with a different way of thinking about leadership and being eclectic. Imagine the song, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’. I can guarantee that if you have attended half a dozen jazz festivals that you have heard this tune played in half a dozen different ways. Yet each time you heard it you knew the name of the tune and how it would end (‘the bigger picture’)…and the journey that each of the jazz groups took to achieve the final note was most likely very different. However the big question is this…were any of these versions the ‘wrong’ version?
No, of course not. Each group simply played the tune to suit their personality and the experience within the band. The same goes for choosing your leadership style.
Be eclectic, and lead to your own tune.