Asking for advice, open minds and diversity: Paulė Akramaitė-Dean on leadership

What characteristics do you think a good leader should have?

I think a good leader should be approachable, adaptable and able to learn from others around them.  

What do you think is the difference between management and leadership? 

In many organisations, management and leadership can be used interchangeably. I would say that management is usually more formal with well-defined responsibilities. Leadership can also be a formal position but more generally I think that anyone in a workplace can be a leader without having a formal leadership role. Even in a flat organisation structure, people can still display leadership qualities.

Do you think that leadership is taught or learnt?

Like most things, it’s probably a bit of both. I have definitely seen leaders improve over time and after handling difficult situations. I think that diversity of experiences is one of the most important things for a leader to have and no-one is born with that. 

Tell us about something different a leader did that has stuck with you.

I had a team leader that people often went to for advice, including me. He once told me that I didn’t need to ask, I could decide for myself and that he trusted me to make a good decision. That really helped my self-confidence and created a real sense of ownership of my work.

Have you worked/coached with or played for an unlikely leader? Someone who stepped up when they weren’t expected to?

I have worked in environments where people often unexpectedly step up to lead a situation but at other times would also step away to let others lead. I think that a team does not need to have just one leader but everyone can be a leader when they feel they want or need to be, in situations that suit their skills and interests.

Tell us about a time a leader showed empathy and compassion and improved a situation.

I was in a team that was going through a difficult time because of the workload and unexpected obstacles that made it difficult to meet deadlines. We had a meeting where I expected the leader to give us solutions, something specific that would solve the problem. Instead, the leader asked more questions about the situation and tried to understand what was making the team unhappy. After that, as a team we came up with some good solutions ourselves. It reminded me again that trying to understand the situation and how people are feeling is the most important thing, and solutions can usually wait until that is established. 

What have you learnt from the leaders you’ve worked with and how has that affected your own behaviour in the workplace? 

I have learnt that good leaders are never the same. I’ve worked with good leaders that had different personalities, communication styles and skills. That made me realise that I should never assume in advance of what qualities make a good leader. The most important thing is that a leader cares, and acts in majority interest rather than their own.

Have you ever had a mentor and if so, how was that experience?

I have not had a mentor formally, but worked with people that were great at sharing their skills and knowledge. Good mentorship skills are very important in a workplace and people like that make everyone else around them better. 

Bad bosses can have a negative effect on workplace environments, productivity and even mental health. Have you ever been affected by a poor manager?

I have been affected by negative leaders before, and have also seen other people affected by them quite strongly. However, it’s often the case that a bad manager for one person is a great manager for another. Some of the more universally negative things I think are micromanagement, lack of trust and top-down management style where all decisions are made from above. These behaviours change the culture of work to be demotivating and really hurt creativity because they take away ownership of the work from everyone else. Other times, it takes an honest conversation with your manager to understand them better, and let them know what your own expectations are to form a good working relationship.

Have you learned what not to do from the bad bosses and leaders?

I have learnt not to assume that I know what other people are thinking and what their motivations are. I think that talking to others in the workplace and trying to understand them is an important thing to do, and not just for leaders. 

Paulė Akramaitė-Dean is a software engineer working in Edinburgh.

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