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  • Keith Jeffrey

What's a Leader For?

Might sound a dumb question but it’s one I’ve asked myself many, many times. What am I here to do? Could I be doing more? Who do I work for?

Shouldn’t I be more involved in delivery?

Shouldn’t I be floating above the daily grind to focus on the future?

Am I calling meetings for the sake of this?

Shouldn’t I be raising money, influencing stakeholders and investors?

Shouldn’t I be spending my time doing REALLY BIG THINGS?

All sorts of nonsense floats through your mind leaving you confused and uncertain.

So in the absence of any other help I tried to do something about it and read a lot of books on leadership but frankly not many of them helped. They were always about Steve Jobs or Proctor and Gamble creating some ground-breaking new technology that was immediately snapped up by the market-place and generated millions of dollars income.

None of those stories ever seemed particularly relevant or helpful. In the corporate world a £20k spend is a rounding error, to a social, cultural or creative leader its manna from heaven.

In any case we are by and large in the service business, tightly constrained by a social mission where we have to meet the needs of a bewildering number of stakeholders. These features are not replicated anywhere else, there aren’t many books dealing with the austerity or political interference.

It also seems to me that leadership is undervalued in this sector, not least by leaders themselves with many still heavily involved in delivery. Partly this is due to economic realities but my guess is that this is because the leader is in their comfort zone will in an operational mindset rather than embracing the role of leader.

The dissonances this leads to are substantial. They often feel that time sat in front of a computer planning or networking at a business event is not the real job of work. They should be doing the nitty gritty not hobnobbing around.

This is fed by Boards as well. Particularly in VCSE sector Boards are notoriously risk averse and so a Leader gets pressures from above, from the team and clients and internally as well.

This is why it’s a stressful job and why I set up BreakThrough Coaching. I can help leaders change this around so they are more effective in what they do.

In a Post-covid world the need for real, effective and strategic leadership has never been more important so here are some ideas to be more effective as a leader.

Manage your time

Put aside time each week for strategic activities.

There may be no option but to be involved in delivery but you must create space for stakeholder relationships, evaluation, planning, income generation. These are important as they sustain the health of the organisation.

Put aside a minimum of 30% of your diary for strategic activities and protect that time. Do not allow meeting requests to nibble away at that time.

I can hear the cat calls already, we have so much to do, we can’t afford it. My answer is that you are not doing your job properly unless you are so it is vital you find a way of solving these issues, talk to your Board because is vital that you do so.

Purpose, Strategy & Trade-offs

I read a great quote about a leader. A leader is the “guardian of organisational purpose”. It’s a great starting point for thinking about your role.

Your job is to make sure your team or organisation is fulfilling its purpose.

Yes, money. Yes, marketing, Yes all those other things but they are meaningless unless they are focused on fulfilling your purpose.

Stop.

Think.

Re-engage.

Review what you are doing and make sure it aligns to this Purpose. Be clear about trade-offs, are you doing anything simply for the cash? If so drop it.

Look outwards

If you spend all your time looking inwards, managing the team doing all the great things a leader should that is great. Crack on.

However that’s only half the job, you also need to look outside. Make meetings with people who may interested in your work, or who you are interested yourself.

Set up meetings with stakeholders, influencers, use this as a way of enhanced networking to get your message across to the people who matter to you.

Leverage the networks of your Board but get out there, influence, advocate, sell.

The benefits of this are personal and operational. You might get wind of a new funding or business opportunity. You will build contacts who may want to work with you either now or in the future.

Your strategic awareness will grow and you will have a far better understanding of the context your organisation exists in.

The practical impacts may take a while to show fruit but you will gather vital information about the sector you are working in which will help with your future planning activities

Ask for help (ahem)

You are not alone. People are out there.

You do not have to have all the answers. Do NOT think you should.

Seek out a coach (ahem again) or a mentor.

Insist on proper job/performance evaluations so you can improve your effectiveness. Undertake personal and professional development.

REMEMBER:

It is not your job to take on the whole responsibility for your organisation.

It’s an imperfect world but these simple activities may well help.

And look after yourself.

For further thinking read these:

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newldr_41.htm#:~:text=Leaders%20help%20themselves%20and%20others,vision%2C%20and%20create%20something%20new.&text=Yet%2C%20while%20leaders%20set%20the,a%20smooth%20and%20efficient%20way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPYeCltXpxw

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