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Celebrity Island With Bear Grylls - A Question Of Gender Or Leadership?

31/08/2017 15:50 BST | Updated 31/08/2017 15:50 BST
Jimmy LL Tsang via Getty Images

Confession time, I am a big fan of Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, a British reality television series that features participants placed on remote uninhabited Pacific islands as a test of their survival skills.

The idea of simplifying my life to only thinking about food, water, fire and shelter and ditching my smart phone is all really appealing. The physical ordeal not so much, although I do kid myself that I'd have the mental toughness to survive, which is easy to do from my arm chair.

The first episode of the new series was on Tuesday and it was fascinating. Olympian Iwan Thomas, self-proclaimed alpha male was keen to lead, demonstrate his ability to work in a team and be the hero.

Iwan's bravado, determination and self-confidence meant that the Islanders followed him. Their faith was initially rewarded; he led them successfully to the beach to set up camp. Unfortunately this approach didn't work the next day when they needed to find water, the boys returned empty handed after seven hours of searching. The water was eventually sourced using less brawn and more brain, by a group led by female Asian writer and comedian Shazia Mirza

The editors of the show seemed to look at the situation through the lens of gender:

• Three alpha males in the camp, wanting to the take the lead.

• Women not being heard or being ignored.

• Iwan making sexist comments about being hormonal when he felt exhausted and defeated.

• Women quietly saving the day by finding water.

Looking at this sequence of events, it would be so easy to fall into that trap of stereotyping. However I feel that the story is more complex than that. After all, not all men wanted to lead, some were very content to follow; others were more reflective in their approach. Breaking Bad actor R J Mitte spent a lot of time persevering trying to create a fire alone on the beach, it was evident from his tears that his motivation was the welfare of the group rather than individual glory.

Quirky comedian Mark Watson valued the strength of the women from the beginning, recognising that their steady approach would win the day.

I believe hidden amongst the women we have alpha females too and predict Sharron Davies to emerge in this role once she has acclimatised.

Much has been written connecting leadership styles to gender, they are not inextricably linked, but I feel that there is a lot to learn about leadership, not just gender from watching Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls.

If you ask yourself the question, what is leadership? I think that you'll find the different styles illustrated on the Island.

We will see how far Iwan's heroic leadership style will take them. Whether the Islanders decide to distribute leadership so that the Islanders can play to their individual strengths. Whether those who lead through serving others will be valued and recognised for their unobtrusive and facilitative approach. Most intriguing to me is how inclusive they will be. There is obvious race, gender and age diversity and I am sure a lot more. Who will be part of the in or out groups, will they accept and value difference, and even leverage it to perform at their best and survive? These are the challenges that leaders struggle with every day in an increasingly competitive and global environment, how to create an inclusive environment where all can thrive.

Heroic, distributed, servant or inclusive, these are the leadership lenses I will use to watch smugly from my sofa with a hot mug of tea, knowing that I'll sleep in a nice warm bed and that I know where my next meal is coming from.

What about you? Which Islanders mirror your leadership style, that of your team or place of work? When you see your style in practice on Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, will you be proud?

I'll be watching the rest of the series to see how it all unfolds.