There isn’t just one way to be a leader according to former aid worker, business leader and author of A Life Half Lived, Andrew MacLeod.
Speaking to Megan Dalla-Camina in the lead up to the Sustaining Women in Business conference this month, MacLeod described the different leadership approaches and the importance of understanding when to use them.
“There’s leadership from the front, leadership from the side and leadership from behind: When you’re saying, ‘Everyone follow me, come this way’, when you lead a group of equals and when you quietly get things done but take none of the glory yourself,” says MacLeod, whose book discusses the role of the private sector as a mechanism to achieve a break in the cycle of world poverty by improving community benefits at the same time as corporate profitability.
The former lawyer, general manager of communities, communications and external relations for the Copper Group of Rio Tinto and the chief of operations to the United Nations response to the 2005 Pakistan Earthquake, says different leadership styles are needed at different times.
“I would say to anyone looking to build their leadership skills and capacity to look at the different types of leadership and build each of those capacities and analyse and try to understand when each one is needed,” he says.
“There are times when you’re better off sitting in the background and empowering your staff and empowering your teams to get on with doing their jobs, which means allowing them to make mistakes. Allowing them to do things differently to how you would and allowing them to learn from that.”
Studying to be a lawyer, it was the advice of former Australian Federal Justice Minister Michael Tate who influenced MacLeod’s move away from the law into the not-for-profit world of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commission for Refugees.
“Michael Tate, who was then a senator for Tasmania and the Australian Federal Justice Minister was coming down [to Melbourne] to guest lecture on constitutional law to a group of second year law students and he stopped half way through and said, ‘Actually I don’t want to talk about constitutional law, what I want to tell you is this: Having a law degree doesn’t grant you a happier life and a wealthy existence. It imposes upon you an obligation to use your skills for the betterment of other people’,” MacLeod recalls.
“That advice hit me really hard and firmly because it was providing the answer to the questions I was looking for. I decided then and there that if life was about trying to do as much as you can for other people, then you need to go to the circumstances that are most difficult. So I said to myself I want to go and work for the International Committee of the Red Cross or I want to go work for the UN High Commission for Refugees in some of the world’s most difficult circumstances and over the last 20 years I’ve had the great good fortune of working for both of those organisations.”
MacLeod’s book tells the story of his growing disillusionment with the aid and development industry following the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. The sector’s lack of effectiveness and efficiency in the way it spends money and its failure to break the cycle of poverty, ultimately led Macleod from the not-for-profit sector to work for Rio Tinto.
To listen to the full podcast with Megan Dalla-Camina and Andrew MacLeod, press play on the media player below or listen over at SWB.