The Iron Lady: Armoured leadership

The dropping of Brene Brown’s podcast on amoured leadership is timely. I have been reflecting on how my leadership style has changed over the years. Not a comfortable process. Dropping my “armour” has had the most profound impact on my professional and personal life.

Let me set the scene. The 1980s were my formative years. I was in my 20’s. Women leaders were largely in the background certainly not in the forefront of our consciousness. When I think of armoured leadership, I immediately think of Margaret Thatcher. Is it a coincidence that she was labelled “The Iron Lady” due to her uncompromising politics and leadership style? Margaret Thatcher had one woman cabinet member in the eleven years that she was in office. A quote from the latest series of The Crown (Series 4) gives us some insight into how we remember her:

I am assuming no women?” (Queen)

Oh certainly, not. Not because there aren’t any suitable candidates. But I have found women, in general, tend not to be suited to high office anyway.” (Thatcher)

Why’s that” (Queen)

Well, they become too emotional”. (Thatcher)

The following quote, also attributed to Margaret Thatcher, indicates that her autocratic leadership style had little room for empathy.

My responsibility for the time that I have in Office is to put sentimentality to one side and look after this country’s interests with the perspective of a balance sheet.

In late 2004, I moved into a new phase of my professional life. Before then, I was largely a sole practitioner, doing a large percentage of the clinical role supported by a small part-time staff of one or two others. With the new business model and Vision, came the need to recruit full-time clinical and admin staff. I needed robust systems in place. This required “management”. I had some rudimentary management skills, learned via an experiential pathway. In essence, there is nothing wrong with this, however, it came with considerable mistakes and resultant stress. I was the living example of a manager at the best and amoured leadership at the worst. I made lots of mistakes, often looking for an external locus of control, putting on my blamer hat, and not realising that everything that happened could have been different and could have felt differently. I “steeled” myself against my feelings by emotionally self-flagellating. Why didn’t I have thicker skin? Why do others seem to be able to manage situations so well and I am feeling exhausted by all of this? How does the Prime Minister run a country and I do not seem to be able to manage a small business of 5 staff? How do they sleep at night? I thought that I just needed to be tougher, less emotional, and stick to my guns.

Daring Leadership Amoured Leadership
Vision and StrategyPolicies and Procedures
Inspires and InfluencesPower and Control
People FocussedTask focussed
Raises ExpectationsMaintains status quo
Innovation and growth mindsetRisk-averse and stability
Has followersHas subordinates

I now wonder what my earlier years would have felt like and maybe even what my business would have been like, if only I had the insight, knowledge, and skills to drop the armour and embrace a daring leadership style.? The Vision was always there, just not overtly articulated or embraced. I did not lead my team to be actively involved in the Vision. I see that as a missed opportunity. I took all the control, reacted, and kept everyone on task. I also experienced all the associated stress. As Brene says, “My ego was a willing and eager conspirator in locking away my heart”.

Have a look at the above table and see where your bias is. Are you a daring or an amoured leader? Have a listen to Brene’s podcast and see if it makes sense to you? Maybe even embark on a leadership course. It might change a lot of things for you? Open your minds and your hearts to daring leadership in your practice. Witness and feel the difference.

Dianna Howell Certmgr MIML MAPA

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