Recently I had a sudden realisation that I’ve been in a senior leadership position for a decade. How did that happen?
It then got me wondering (in addition to how quickly ten years have gone by) about how I don’t think my style of leadership has changed at all. From being a supervisor in a hospital to being a middle manager in a students’ union, or being part of a senior team in a college. Is that because I have never adapted or is it because I have never felt the need to change my approach to leadership and management? And, is it lazy leadership to not make any attempt to change my approach?
I dug out a psychometric assessment which I completed in 2018 and I remember feeling disappointed that my ‘conscious’ and ‘less conscious’ wheel positions were exactly the same. But five years on from that – and a few assessments down, I still haven’t changed, and I think I’m all good with knowing who I am and how I am.
Being authentic. Being human.
I’m glad I ignored a former senior manager who told me how I “should act”, how I “should manage” people and how “staff are not your friends”. What a load of rubbish.
My advice? Don’t change who you are or how you are just because your name badge now has the word manager on it. Yes, of course, you must consider how your actions and behaviours might influence others around you, but in order for others to feel comfortable and authentic around you, you too need to show that you’re human and human/life factors affect you too. Let your team into your life and have an interest in theirs. And be friendly, be friends, but set expectations too – because sometimes friends no longer become friends when work doesn’t work out for you or them. But, that’s the deal.
Being honest. Being kind.
No one wants a vile manager who they’re terrified of. Though, saying that, one of my favourite line managers was terrifying but I found her to be hilariously funny – and nearly 20 years on she remains a friend and still berates me. Always making time for team members, and giving honest and constructive feedback, while always remaining kind is important. People have come and gone in my teams, but even the most difficult conversations haven’t been ones where I have felt the need to shout or get angry. I probably learnt from another senior manager who shouted at me “sit down and shut that ****ing door” when I told them I wasn’t prepared to speak with them when they were angry. The cause of that person’s abuse? Me forgetting to replace a poster.
Knowing that people have different backgrounds, motivations, life stories, and passions other than work was a tricky concept to navigate earlier in my management career. But now I get it. I get it because I like to learn about those around me and appreciate what is happening in their lives.
Being kind doesn’t stop with your team and others around you. This is my major flaw. Because of my stupidly high expectations, I can be very critical of myself, but through various mental health ‘things’ which have happened, where I assume my brain said “give me a break”, I have learnt how to be kind to me too by not listening to that droning old bag who is my worst critic (me).
Being approachable. Being fun.
If you’re not kind, then I doubt others will find you approachable. And if you’re not approachable then people won’t tell you the truth. And if you don’t know the truth then you don’t really ever know what is happening ‘out front’. And if you don’t know that, then you’re not a good senior manager. So, listen — really listen — share your experiences, mentor, coach, and allow people to enjoy the work they do and enjoy your company. And, for goodness’ sake, let people have fun at work and around the work (sometimes because of it) – laugh and be silly at times. Laugh when it’s great, and cry with laughter when it’s rubbish. Break down that “I-AM-MANAGER” barrier.
Being humble. Being a leader.
Here’s one where I think I’ve changed. Hoorah! I am adaptable! Early on as a manager, I wanted to do everything and be seen to be doing everything brilliantly. I probably did push a few people (not physically) out of the way in order to advance my own career and I don’t think I feel bad about that. What I would feel bad about would be taking the success of my team and claiming it as my own. And I have seen this – A LOT. In meetings where a colleague (not at Peridot) shouts from the rooftops about their successes, when in fact we all know it was their deputy who had done the hard slog – the person celebrating their own successes only came up with the idea.
I back my team, always, and celebrate their achievements (no matter how big or small) and let them know I am proud of them when I feel proud. If the team, or someone in it, messes up I take the hit because I’m also accountable for it happening under my supervision (this bit links to the need to be approachable). I believe a leader does put themselves first, but then quickly pulls everyone up front, playing to the diverse strengths in the team, in order to deliver what needs delivering.
Being reflective. Being me.
STOP. PAUSE. THINK. ACTION. I’ve definitely learnt this – perhaps from the time when I worked in a college as a graduate and sent an all-staff email arguing the CEO’s stance on a certain matter. I learnt from that! Though, I still believe he was wrong.
A leader only reacts when they need to react. In all other circumstances, there is a need to pause and consider the next steps, and the impact of those next steps in a wider context (there’s always context). Even if you think it’s appropriate to react immediately, it’s likely to not be the best action. If you still aren’t sure, seek advice and assurance from a network (build one!). And, when things go wrong, or things could have been dealt with better, then lead by example; own it, reflect on it, and learn from it. Just don’t do it again.
I know my imperfections and I own them. I believe most of my team knows them too and I’m completely comfortable with that. They tell me when I’m being unrealistic or if I’m crossing a line, and I welcome that. I need that. But, ten years into senior leadership, I have never been happier. Here is to the next ten years and all the mistakes I’ll make along the way.
*Please note that in certain organisations it may be true that you must not be authentic, human, honest, kind, approachable, fun, humble, reflective, or the real version of yourself. Please also note that those types of organisations sound terribly boring and not a place I would ever consider working for. This has been an enjoyable and cathartic experience. Apologies for rambling on.
Drew Richardon-Walsh is our Director of Education Practice, keeping more than ten team members entertained, inspired and delivering exceptional work for our partners. If you are looking for inspiring leaders like Drew, please send him an email or connect with him on LinkedIn.