11 Leadership Lessons Learned

I like a little alliteration, so here’s 11 things I’ve learned about leadership – mostly from much admired colleagues, and just a little of my own experience.

Please agree, disagree or add yours…..

In no particular order:

1. Talk less, listen more. People will pay attention to what you say, just because of your position. The leader’s job is to pay attention to what other people say, especially those who think their views don’t count. Show you’re listening  by acting on what people tell you, and gain trust by giving them the credit.

2. Don’t step in with solutions too quickly. No-one learns anything new, if you keep doing what you already know how to do, and don’t allow others to try. Anyway, they may find a different, or better way, and if not… mistakes are valuable too.

3. Don’t be the smartest person in the room. Being a leader does not mean knowing more than anyone else. Recognise, encourage and promote others as the experts. Give them the trust and autonomy to be creative and do excellent work, defined in their terms. You simply provide the direction, so that this excellent work contributes to a shared purpose.

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’” – Lao Tzu

4. Be authentic, passionate, even emotional, about what you believe in. Share your vision and live the values. The personal is more engaging, even inspiring, than the process.

5. Don’t ‘dis’ downwards. Once a decision is made by the Board, or the leadership team, it’s yours even if you argued against it during discussions. Your job as leader is to get others to believe in, and work towards, a shared goal, not to divide opinion or loyalties.

6. I’m OK: You’re OK. Start from the position that everyone is doing the best they can, then look for ways to support and encourage them – which is so much more rewarding than finding fault.

7. Sense of purpose – your team know what they do and how to do it well, but you can make a big difference by sharing a strong sense of why. Help them develop a broad understanding of team purpose and faith in how their role contributes to the whole. (Remember the floor-sweeper at NASA?)

8. Being right isn’t enough – a great idea is of no consequence unless you can convince others to believe it too, and then persuade them to help you make your idea a reality. The best way to do this is to make the idea theirs.

9. Focus on a few things that really matter and where you can make a difference. There may be a hundred different distractions and demands on your time, and a hundred ways you could respond, but its the dozen carefully chosen actions that deliver the results.

10. Get out and about, and in the work. It’s hard to retain that sense of what the job’s really about, sat in the office. You’ll see what people actually do, rather than what people tell you they do. And you’ll see their commitment, effort and achievements first hand, and feel proud to be part of the same team. Always inspiring, and informative, and better than any meeting!

11. Keep trying. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t live up to your own expectations. Reflect and learn from those times when you stumble and fall over 1-10 above.


Who Cares?

What does it take to lead a successful, caring service?

James and Paula run a national organisation that supports people with learning disabilities and people with autism, which means they really understand people – what help they need to make their own choices and decisions; what drives some people to support and care for others; and what their role is, as leaders of a caring service.

Care and Support is a difficult business to be in nowadays, with more monitoring, efficiency-savings, timesheets and IT, than you might imagine when you’re caring for people. Public spending cuts, the short-term expediency of commissioners, and increased scrutiny, have a negative effect on caring organisations. The common response is a focus on process, rules and their own survival, rather than on their customers. There’s also the negative impact on the people who provide the support – diminution of terms and conditions, less time to spend with customers, more paperwork, more saying no.

James and Paula believe that, in these conditions, they must model the way by retaining a strong focus on their customers and the core purpose of their organisation, communicating this well and in person. They strive to maintain a balance between “feeding the beast” (of bureaucracy) and quality time spent with the people being supported. Corporate messages, success measures and the daily actions of the leaders must recognise, reinforce and value the transformational working relationships with the people they support.

Supporting disadvantaged and disabled people to live the life they choose, and working with them through their challenges, set-backs and achievements, carries an emotional toll for the service-providers – many of whom are lone-workers, who can feel isolated and have their own issues to deal with. Their managers need to be able to identify when people are struggling and create formal and informal opportunities for people to offload and share their experiences.

At their best, leaders of caring services are inspirational role models, in organisations that provide development opportunities to ‘grow their own’, prevent burn-out and disillusionment. They are visible, accessible, involved and honest – recognising mistakes and learning from them, without fear or blame. They can balance creativity with pragmatism and promote compliance without dampening enthusiasm.

James and Paula say their role is to

“give staff the tools they need to do their jobs and get out of the way”

One in a series of case studies with http://www.themindfulleadershipfoundation.com, which explore how leaders of the social and caring professions can prevent burnout, and nurture resilient and compassionate front-line teams. If any of this is familiar to you, please share your story and your suggestions.

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up!

On desire and disappointment…….

There is something I want
A glimmer of interest has become an obsession
The more I think about it, the more I want it. My possession

Take your time, plan carefully.
Plenty of hard work and trust to fate
Good things come to those who wait

The anticipation is killing me
What if something goes wrong, gets in the way?
Maybe today will not be my day?

You can only do your best
Act cool. Keep your head
Think about something else instead

I can’t get it out of my mind.
I’ll be shattered if it’s taken from me
What if I can’t do it, if it’s not to be?

Everything will work out right
Don’t worry about the rest
Just as long as you do your best

I have to get it.
Who else is better than me?
Will they get there first? Maybe

Then how would you feel?
How will you cope?
Will this failure mean the loss of all hope?

I can’t imagine life without it
It has to be mine.
I have to believe it will all be just fine.

So don’t get your hopes up
We’ll have to wait and see
Que sera! What will be, will be………..

So that’s it, all over, its done
My chance has gone
How will I ever get my hopes up again?

Con te Partiro

I do believe in intuition
A week’s schedule of meetings, appointments and interviews. A tidy plan
Suddenly doesn’t feel right
There’s something else, something urgent, something urging
Me to be somewhere else tonight.
Its time to go.

One by one we all arrive,
And soon we’re all here
We don’t want to think it, can’t acknowledge it, daren’t speak it
But even so, it becomes clear
It’s time to say goodbye.

This is the day
The last day we will all be together
To support each other
To say it’s OK to leave
Its OK to grieve
Its time to go.

Its not luck, nor fate, that brings us here
But love and fortune. A privilege to share
One final moment
A wonderful, terrible, aweful
Unique moment in time
Time to say goodbye.