35 - Number of years Nita has spent in leadership development
25 - Number of years Nita has been an RACV member
What comes to mind when you think of leadership? A politician delivering a steely glare into the middle distance, hoping to look distinguished? A CEO guiding the share price to appease shareholders? A coach trying inspirational home-spun rhetoric?
Leadership expert Nita Cherry has a simpler definition, which she puts to her MBA students in their first class. They’re probably expecting lectures on effective business strategy, long-term accounting techniques or the like. Instead Nita hits them with: “When you walk into a room, does the lighting brighten or dim?”
For Nita, a 25-year RACV member, leadership is mostly about energy. It’s a unique view that is gaining traction and is a theme of her new book, Energising Leadership.
“I worked for decades in large organisations and for a long time I didn’t have the words to describe this, but I had an implicit understanding that true leadership was about working with, harnessing and freeing the energy of people,” she said.
Leadership is about unblocking energy, fostering positive energy, nurturing it and occasionally creating energy from thin air. “A Mexican Wave at the cricket is a pure example of energy,” she said. “It creates this energy and you feel compelled to join, so the energy grows.”
An offshoot of Nita’s take on leadership explains why we don’t seem blessed with brilliant political leaders. We are in an age obsessed by “Hero Leaders”, she said. “We look for somebody to single-handedly lead us through adversity but of course political leaders can only let us down.” Success in any team has to come from harnessing the group’s energy, focus and agreed goals.
Nita urges us to not fetter young potential leaders with all the ways “it should be done”, instead leaving them uncluttered so their energy can run free. “Many courses and companies teach young leaders to manage money, staff conflicts and so forth, but they don’t encourage mobilising energy ... We learn ‘the way to do it’ as opposed to all the ways it could be done.”