My boss is always doing things that confound the usual style of leadership I’ve experienced in Australian organisations.
There was that time she wrote an open and vulnerable email sharing of her own personal, current and difficult struggles with depression.
There are those regular times each quarter that she shares the financials of the business she created and owns and invites us to have a say in where investments should be made.
And then there is her constant commitment to championing the personal growth of each of her employees by running a personal development program for every staff member, no matter their level.
Her leadership style stands in stark contrast to the times I’ve seen power misused, slashed as a weapon or wielded as a shield. Before I met her, my opinion of leadership was informed by negative, rather than positive qualities. I would come away from my interactions with leaders of ‘what not to do and how to be’. Sadly, I am not alone in my experience, with the majority of my colleagues and friends across various industries of health, medicine, law, education, NFP, government and HR having undergone similar experiences.
Before I met Richenda Vermeulen, founder and CEO of ntegrity strategy agency, I was settled with the idea that this is just part of being a junior in a world where everyone is climbing a ladder to get a better view.
But why should we settle when we don’t have to? Richenda, started her business in the middle of an industry dominated by males where she could have easily ridden the wave of ‘norms’ to stay afloat, to stay relevant, to stay powerful. Yet despite having a lot on her plate (she’s also a mum, wife, friend, mentor to many, speaker, writer and NFP champion), she’s committed to being a change agent and a front runner for a new age of leadership. A kind of leadership this world needs.
Here are the differences:
Consistency is a big thing if you’ve ever worked in an environment where you’re constantly playing the guessing game to determine what mood your boss will be in today. We all know those moods can throw off your entire day, week or even month, because generally the boss sets the tone for the workplace and the rest of us have to fall in line.
With Richenda, what you see is what you get day in, day out, minus the extremes. When I was told I could ask questions, approach her about any concerns, or challenge her viewpoint, she actually meant it.
The byproduct of an unpredictable leader, are second-guessing employees and vague and changing project outcomes, which impedes on the quality and timeliness of your work. While the results of a predictable leader are sure employees who understand the expectations and rise to exceed them.
There’s a time and place for being vulnerable, and Richenda chooses her moments wisely. Her email about her struggles with depression, or her chats about the sometimes heavy responsibility of business decisions are honest, real and extremely vulnerable. I’ve never seen a boss share so much or so personally about their outward and internal battles because normally vulnerability is a sign of weakness. But her openness means I trust her more, not less.
Her vulnerability has also set the tone for the culture of our workplace, allowing us to cut through the crap, build deeper-than-surface-level relationships and ultimately become a much stronger and more supportive and team who celebrates the wins, rallies around the losses and is sensitive of life’s hardballs.
It’s focused on my growth
While Richenda is focused on business growth, this doesn’t come at the expense of my growth. With a business model that incentivises growth, and a personal development plan worked into our jobs, we’re actively encouraged to trial new methods even if we’re not sure it’ll pay off.
We also have a feedback culture where we acknowledge whether something is or isn’t working. It means I have become a lot less precious about my work, because I know there’s not hidden meanings, no undercurrents of gossip, no uncertainty about my role – it’s not personal, it’s about growth. And because each of us in the team are more confident in our roles, our capacity to do better work as a business increases too.
It’s about people, not $
Love is Richenda’s leading and strongest hand in her business. For her, it’s not money, success or fame, and yet inevitably those things have come to her. She once wrote an article in Dumbo Feather about why she runs her business with love, and it’s as true today as it was when she wrote it. She takes her responsibility as a leader seriously, knowing it’s ultimately about leading people and bringing out the best in them in order to reach business goals, not the other way around.
So here’s to a kind leadership that should be everyone’s norm, not just the lucky few. And here’s to a leader who is not afraid to go against the tide.