7 Keys Of Leadership In An Indigenous Organisation

7 Keys Of Leadership In An Indigenous Organisation

"Leadership" is a key resource requirement in an Indigenous organistion.

My readers will know that I have spent 30 years working for Indigenous organisations and through this experience, I have seen well-managed and governed organisations, as well as those that have not been successful. In my opinion, the difference is in the leadership that has been available to them. In my opinion, well-managed and well-governed organisations have strong and inspirational leaders that show the way.

They inspire people to work hard and strive for best-practice.

How do good leaders do that?

In my experience, I have seen the 7 keys to good leadership. They are present in good leaders no matter what the background or history of those leaders.

However, I also believe they are not born into a person but rather a person can learn to develop these 7 key characteristics of good leadership.

Here are the 7 keys I believe you need to know and develop in order to be the leader of your organisation:-

  1. The key to building trust
  2. The key to possessing emotional intelligence
  3. The key to being open to innovation
  4. The key to asking the right questions
  5. The key to diplomacy
  6. The key to finding balance
  7. The key to sustaining your vision.

Let’s take them one at a time.

The Key To Building Trust:

Your biggest challenge, especially if your organisation has staff from different experiences and backgrounds the need to teach other people how to their job, and then trusting them to do it.

It’s natural that you want to impose your standards and stay in charge of what you know. But you just can’t grow if you do that, there’s only one of you. If you really get stuck every day on the detail of what you do, you won’t have the time or headspace to lead the whole organisation.

You need to build your trust in other people as well as to build their trust in you. This means that you need to show by example, not take over and micro-manage.

They will make mistakes but the focus is on what happens as a result of those mistakes? Do they learn? Do you learn? Is there a better way of doing what was supposed to happen so that you can cut out future room for error? Are you open, honest and non-judgemental when you discuss those mistakes?

The key to building trust is about empowerment. Your people need to be empowered to run with the opportunity and take initiative, but the balance is to be watchful so that you can guide and teach before they really fall over. When they realise that they have responsibility; that they are empowered to do things and accept the consequences, but that you are available to make sure they don’t launch themselves over a cliff, they will trust you to ask for help and allow trust in them to be built.

The Key To Possessing Emotional Intelligence:

“Emotional Intelligence” is simply the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the ability to identify others’ emotions and emotional needs.

While you are “the boss” and to some degree may need to act as a boss (like making the final decision for example) your team need to know that you are also human. If you can display emotional intelligence, you can show more of yourself, your humility and your emotional responses.

After all, leadership is about leading people and if you are unable to identify your negative emotions such as frustration, how can you lead them into responding appropriately? Leadership is about inspiring people, being a role model and being there for them when they need support. This needs you to identify your emotions, manage them, identify people’s needs, and respond to them.

Lashing out through frustration at someone does not show emotional intelligence. What is happening to them in their own lives that cause them to behave the way they do? Unless you are open to recognising that, your frustration will grow.

We’ve all met the manager who yells out in frustration and loudly demands action. How did you rank them as a “leader”?

The key to emotional intelligence is to be genuinely interested in people, and to stop and think about the range of emotions you display as a human being. How can you harness these emotions to inspire and lead others?

The Key To Being Open To Innovation:

If you have run your organisation for a while, it can be very challenging to meet a really good team member who has plenty of new ideas.

They see themselves as enthusiastic and contributing, but you may see their ideas with some caution. Tell the truth, have the words “I’ve seen that before” or “That won’t work” come automatically in your mind? It’s true that you have done the hard yards and they don’t know about all the struggles and mistakes of your early days – and it may be true that some of their ideas may sound similar to those early mistakes of yours – but time, circumstances, context and the idea itself may have changed.

The people you are leading are probably of a younger generation than you are, with different life experiences. It just may be that trying that old idea – with new tools – may now work.

The key to being open to new ideas is to allow discussion and exploration. Listen first, understand, ask questions, and then allow them to study or research or trial it. Use your experience to identify the challenges they might face, not to shut it down.

The Key To Asking The Right Questions:

Recognise that as a leader you are no longer acting as a manager, knowledgeable about the way your organisation has always dealt with things. You need to be a generalist, listening to others’ experience and setting the agenda on how to develop these to the advantage of your organisation.

As a leader, you don't have to have all the answers. But with your experience in the organisation, you can leverage others’ knowledge by asking questions and then redirecting them.

Ask all sorts of questions about the organisation. Ask if your services can be made better and how. Ask what wastes money and what saves it. Ask what mistakes you’ve made and how to fix them.

Then, the key to getting results from first asking the right questions is to start to prioritise the information you are getting and drilling down with more questions on key areas.

The Key To Diplomacy:

As a leader, you need more than just charisma and great communication skills to bring people with you. It is your vision and you need to lead the way so that people see that vision, desire to follow that vision, and walk the talk.

This takes more than persuasive skills – because others might argue or disagree, or be confused, or misunderstand. Dealing with this takes diplomacy and understanding. Leading means managing conflict amongst star players, negotiating solutions both internally and with external parties. This might mean that you have to build alliances – sometimes with people who would normally be seen as in competition.

The key to diplomacy is to keep your eye on the big vision and the desired outcomes while getting there. Helping others to see that big picture and to agree to work towards it is diplomacy.

The Key To Finding Balance:

You may need to act sometimes as a leader, and sometimes as a manager. Sometimes, you need to understand why you need to do something in the organisation, and move your people to understand that so that they can move in the same direction.

Yet sometimes, you need to take a tactical view and actually walk with them in that direction, setting out tasks and actions for them to initiate.

This needs balance – in other words, you can’t be Richard Branson all the time, sometimes you need to be one of his aircraft mechanics. The most important thing to recognise when finding this balance is to focus on what is important, what has the biggest impact.

The key to finding balance is to be able to focus on both people and processes, both the purpose and outcomes of the organisation.

The Key To Sustaining Your Vision:

What is leadership, if not remaining true to your vision?

Sustainable, resilient organisations stay true to their vision of what they are – their purpose. Your ultimate responsibility as a leader is to see to it that your vision survives change within and outside the organisation so that it thrives by sticking to its purpose.

The key to sustaining your vision is to articulate it, be concrete in how it translates in day to day business activity, and then to insist on everyone knowing and working towards it. In this way you should know the key drivers and success factors of the business and be continually measuring them.

Leadership is the difference between a successful organisation and one that is failing, or striven with conflict and unable to fulfill its purpose for its members. These 7 keys or leadership traits can be developed through the thoughtful use of experience, and through working openly and honestly with your team.

If you want to know more abput developing leaders in your organisation, contact me about our leadership development programs by emailing me at or calling our office on 08 9242 2085.

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