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Leadership comes in many forms

I honestly struggled with viewing myself as a leader. Part of my core beliefs and values are around leadership, and not buying into what can be a very toxic set of ideas around leadership. Leaders as tell-you-what-to-do-bosses, leaders as untrustworthy men who will take advantage of anyone with less power than them. Frankly, leaders and leadership didn't exactly look like anything that I naturally aligned myself with.


A humorous take on the view of toxic leadership that left me unwilling to think of myself as a leader.

A humorous take on the view of toxic leadership that left me unwilling to think of myself as a leader.


I have experienced a great deal of variety in the leaders I have lived and worked under. I have suffered under a few who were straight up narcissists who actively undermined me and who made me feel like I was a battered wife, struggling to believe in myself, my worth, and that it didn't have to be that way.

I was raised in an authoritarian manner, deeply controlled by a select few men (never, ever women), and who were so utterly improbable as leaders as to be laughable. Their only qualification being their apparently endless capacity for maintaining a toxic status quo, and quashing any hint of non-conformity.

Someone in a leadership position over me whom I considered a mentor did me dirty and tried very hard to take credit for my work, and when I finally achieved a difficult goal I had been working towards through illness and much hardship said incredulously over and over again that they couldn't believe I had achieved it, that they never thought I would get there.

I have worked for bosses and managers who were that old school category of 'laissez faire' kind of absentee leader who just left things to go to pot, refusing to 'grow up' and take responsibility.

I worked closely along side someone I am now convinced was a high-level conman, what imposter syndrome looks like made real, only I don't think this person ever considered themselves an imposter, though they clearly were.

I've worked for a criminal who not only stole from the company, but who actually tried to blame me for his thefts, by making me out to be unable to do basic arithmetic.

I've worked with leaders who had a deft but light touch and left me to grow at my own pace, only guiding me when I needed it most.

I learned from Aboriginal elder women I was deeply honoured to have met and worked alongside, who lead their communities with such deep heart and commitment it is evident that they and their communities were utterly inseparable, for them, the concept of leadership is deeply entwined with the concept of servanthood and service, nay, perhaps they are one and the same...

I've worked under a leader who genuinely wanted me to better, and who lifted me up. Who relished when I challenged her, and taught me more in a year than I had learned in my entire career up to that point.

Without much formal experience of having direct reports, that kind of 'official' leadership we find thrust upon us at times, it can be hard to identify yourself as a leader, but recently I have been reflecting on the times in my life when I have been a leader, and how I did that, and what kind of leader I was and am.

Student life at university found me heavily engaged, and as a mature age student who didn't actually *look* mature aged, I ended up in bona fide and de-facto leadership roles. I learned so much about what not to do! I realised that doling out advice to unwilling recipients was more about my own ego than about anything I could do to help. I learned that decision-making can be done without the necessity of a formal leadership structure, and that while that can take longer, when done well, it's a beautiful thing to behold.

I've been integral to some niche online communities of people with painful shared experiences, processing our healing alongside one another. I learned that spaces can be toxic or healing no matter if they are real or virtual, and that what you bring can enhance that feeling for everyone. I learned about creating and holding non-judgemental space for people can be healing, and is a beautiful form of leadership.

Parenthood is the ultimate kind of leadership and I can't tell you how much being a parent has taught me. I've learned about timing your difficult conversation correctly. I've learned that lecturing is the least likely method of getting your message across, I've learned that letting a person bloom in their own way at their own pace, and just sprinkling a little fertiliser is sometimes all that's needed.

I've done my own kind of self-leadership, that never-ending journey of guiding myself, of navigating and charting my course, often far far from any landmarks or knowing where I am or even where I'm going. The deep reflections on who I am as a person and what my values are, and how I fit into this big wide world, where I want to go next, and how to get there.

While the world seems invested in promoting an idea of leadership that centres on cutthroat tactics, bullying, division and greed, there are other types of leadership. Many are very subtle, some quite invisible, perhaps even to those exerting that leadership.

Leaders can be servants of those whom they lead. They extend their efforts to provide what the group needs without centring themselves, and gently guide the group to be more than simply the sum of its parts: this is a powerful, subtle form of leadership.

The joy of being around authentic leaders who know themselves and their values so well and are effortless to follow if your values align. You just want to be around them, you want to do well for them, you are all singing from the same song sheet and the music is magical.

The generosity of inspirational leaders who have spent years in mastery and who gift sometimes small but often very dense nuggets of wisdom, pearls created layer on layer of years of agitated thought, testing, experimenting, learning. Their joy is not in being the centre of attention but in bringing attention to their passion and vision.

What kind of leader are you? What kind of leader have I been and might I be in future?

Erin-Lee Laurence