Reflections on leadership

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I’ve found it difficult to write a blog over the past 11months. In part, after finishing my MSc I’ve stopped habitually working weekends (a good thing on many levels) leaving little time to write. Having also moved jobs from working as a consultant with many charities to working only for Toynbee Hall, the content would be restricted to Toynbee Hall or English for Action where I’m a trustee. And that poses a few challenges; your perspective narrows when you’re only considering one charity, and there could be some commercial sensitivity.

Having been in the role for nearly a year now, I thought I’d write about my own journey stepping up into a Head of Development role. This is a useful reflection for me, and it might be interesting to others making a similar move.

There are three things that have been fundamental to me in getting on well over the last year – the third is work in progress:

1. Manager who trusts you

Taking a step up in your career can require someone to take a punt on you – you seem good, but you might not have the same number of years experience as other candidates. I’ve generally been quite lucky in this respect. My current manager took that risk and has given me the space to develop a fundraising strategy from scratch, shape and recruit a new team and try out new projects that aren’t technically on the priority list but fit beautifully strategically. And he gets the cakes in when needed (thanks Chris Triggs).

Before accepting a role, be confident that that you’ll get adequate space and support to deliver what you need to; you’ll face enough challenges without having to convince your line manager of your abilities.

2. Coaching

Something else that has been particularly important is the coaching that I’ve received over the past 12 months. Thinking back to my first coaching session in May 2014 when I accepted the role (a bit anxious and acutely aware of the need to make a good impression and deliver), to my last one in May 2015 (how can I have greater influence across the organisation?), made me realise how much I have changed and grown within the role.

Having a safe space to discuss, reflect and plan how to tackle specific issues has been incredibly valuable and I’m grateful to Kath Abrahams for her unrelenting patience and generosity in enabling this.

3. Yourself

Aside from people giving you an opportunity and helping you to think about how you navigate the change in role, more importantly is how you tackle it. For me, it’s an ongoing challenge – no longer about the change in role, but developing as a manager and leader.

The Clore Social Leadership Framework has three values at its core: Know yourself. Be yourself. Look after yourself. These are three useful things to consider on a regular basis.

Know yourself

Self awareness is important generally and in this context it’s because it’s the first step in changing your own behaviour, so that ultimately you’re more effective. I’m learning to manage different situations in different ways; this sounds obvious, but it is less about changing your communication style and more about thinking how a specific conversation could play out in the longer term and contribute to getting the result that you want. Essentially, it’s about engaging in the politics of the organisation in a constructive way – which can sometimes be a frustrating necessity.

As a transparent person, the tendency to speak directly about a situation – even when done objectively – can sometimes be misinterpreted. Reacting rather than responding can sometimes be detrimental to what I’m trying to achieve, even if it’s coming from the right place (i.e. wanting to get the job done so we’re more effective, deliver more, etc.). In a highly politicised internal environment it could also be used against you, so it’s worth thinking about how you’re perceived and try to manage yourself accordingly.

Understanding your own energy peaks and troughs during the day is also really useful. I’m best doing reading and detailed work first thing in the morning and better at broader planning and conversational things in the afternoon; plan your days around this where possible.

Be yourself

Something I’ve struggled with is the notion of professionalism (!). There’s certainly a balance between the ‘friend zone’ and managing a team, but does being professional mean that you can’t enjoy the company of your colleagues and laugh in the office? I don’t think so.

Following on from ‘know yourself’ I’m still learning how to manage transparency with the team. The idea of selective disclosure is interesting. This doesn’t mean withholding information, but rather being transparent in the most useful way, such as not disclosing too much of the detail where it’s not necessary, not disclosing information on complex projects where decisions are subject to change. Essentially, not creating unnecessary complications or uncertainty.

I’m In terms of managing a team, I’m trying to be the kind of manager that I respect. Setting a clear strategy, but enabling flexibility in how it is operationally delivered so that people can lead in their given area; celebrating individual and team success (such as making the IoF Awards shortlist) ; encouraging training and networking within the sector (improving the individual and also the reputation of Toynbee Hall fundraising); encouraging volunteering to broaden the experience of the team too (e.g. Small Charities Coalition). This is working well and individuals in the team are growing as professional fundraisers – hopefully they’ll stick around.

Look after yourself

A few of my friends and colleagues can cope with six hours sleep and happily work 12 hour days, week in week out. I am not this person. I can be physically present, but I can’t be productive on these hours over the course of more than a week. If I’ve some early starts and late finishes, I’ll try to manage my workload a bit better; perhaps push back pieces of work that need more thought and fill the space with the more straight forward things that need doing too – catching up with colleagues, filing, ploughing through emails.

There are lots of articles that you can read about looking after yourself. The basics are to get some sleep, eat and drink properly, make time for friends and family, and do some exercise.

Overall, I feel that I’m in the right place – on a learning curve that isn’t so steep I’m breaking, but is keeping me interested. And it’s nice seeing our fundraising improve too! My challenge going forward will be to keep reflecting on where I’m at and not get caught up only in the day to day.


Gin time?

Having been on a recent trip to Cuba, I’m all about rum at the moment, specifically Pina Colada. However, I’ve only had Pina Colada out of a can in the UK (revolting) and am yet to try to make it from scratch at home, so I can’t provide a decent recipe.

Instead, I’d recommend a bubble bath (Look after yourself?) with Gin and Tonic bathing gel, something a friend got me on to. Amazing.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on leadership

  1. kate kirkham

    Fab and insightful post Beth – can’t believe it’s been nearly a year….! I’m just about to start having some coaching and v. much looking forward to it.
    On another note, any Hot Toddy tips? I’ve got a stinking cold. Maybe Pina Colada would help.

  2. Thanks Kate. It’s strange writing about yourself but a useful exercise too. I’d be interested to hear how your coaching goes. I don’t know much about Hot Toddy – whisky, honey and lemon warmed up?!

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