Stepping into Leadership and Management: A Personal Reflection

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March 22nd, 2019

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When I was 29 someone thought it sensible to give me the keys to an organisation. And so it happened that authority and responsibility was conferred to me for lots of people and slightly more predictable things like finance, governance and organisational processes. I remember walking to work on the first morning of my newly minted authority with a nausea and slight feeling of panic that people would see through me, that I wasn’t ready, didn’t know enough or have the right leadership qualities. Most important – if I’m really honest – I worried that no-one would like me as a result.

A decade later I’ve formed a view or two on management and leadership, largely from running face-first into them at different times in a not very skilful way. For what they are worth I offer them here to anyone stepping into a more senior role for the first time on the risky assumption they might anticipate some of what’s to come for you and prove useful.

Because unless you are a complete sociopath, the feelings of worry and self-doubt that new authority can arouse are completely normal. For me they never totally went away, even after lots of commercial success, growth and external affirmation I was doing the right stuff. Actually, as irritating as they can be, I think these feelings can usefully provide the raw materials you need to make yourself into an effective manager and leader. After all, they do at least speak to a concern for the view and experience of others.

Recognise your new authority as a choice you have made.

But the most helpful thing you can do – which was absolutely not the first thing I did – is recognise your new authority as a choice you have made. For my part no-one forced me to apply or accept the job when it was offered, and at interview I said all kinds of things to promise I’d be awesome at it. Owning my ambition and choice (and so taking responsibility for the consequences of both) was the most enabling thing I ever did to authorise myself. Because if you don’t authorise yourself somehow, you won’t manage anything as well as you might.

Invest in your development.

The next most important thing you can do is invest in your own leadership development. It was years before I spent any of the organisation’s money on my learning; instead it went on anyone else because I assumed good leadership meant prioritising the development of others. The obvious consequence of this was that I wasn’t as effective as I might have been for a long time. Not because I didn’t have an arsenal of new concepts and models to deploy in my practice. More because I hadn’t developed my ability to notice how I was showing up, either generally or in specific contexts. It turned out self-awareness was the most valuable leadership quality I ever cultivated, because in a parallel process I developed my capability administering various forms of power.

The assumption that leadership and management are different.

A third thing; the assumption that leadership and management are different can give rise to the idea they belong to different people, and this assumption is implicit across the majority of articles, books and commentary on the subject. In my experience this assumption creates a secondary belief that there exists (in hierarchy) a tribe called ‘managers’ and a tribe called ‘leaders’. Consequently, people are either managers or leaders; the former on their way to becoming the (supposedly more valuable) latter. On reflection this wasn’t especially helpful or realistic. Nor is it really the case that you only ever ‘manage things’ and ‘lead people’. Much as I wished it otherwise, sometimes people did need managing, and sometimes I needed to manage myself and be managed. All of us have a relationship to control and authority, and I found it doesn’t always have to be framed pejoratively.

The task of becoming an effective manager and leader.

So, the task of becoming an effective manager and leader is, I think, one of integration. This means paying attention to both in an authentic way that enables you to be increasingly intentional about how you show up in situations, use your authority, and administer power – whatever your grade or title. In the end I came to regard management and leadership as effects or consequences rather than roles; sometimes things and people needed managing, sometimes leading. In my experience how to affect an outcome always require a different combination of management skills and leadership qualities that cut across the assumption of difference and made it redundant. In an important sense getting more sophisticated at this integrated practice was my job description, and though I did not personally recognise it as such for quite some time, I know my younger self would have benefitted from the reminder that whatever you call it – management or leadership – the challenge you now face is basically one of getting stuff done through other people. And in that challenge, who you are and how you are is the most important resource you have at your disposal.

 

Programmes to improve your management and leadership skills:

Essential Management Skills is a two-day management training programme which provides a grounding in becoming a successful people manager. The programme provides an overview of people management tools and techniques as well as the opportunity for participants to practice new techniques in a supportive environment. The programme runs in Horsham, Manchester and Bristol

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Emerging Leaders Programme is a modular course which will helps understand how to articulate and demonstrate what is fundamentally important to be an effective leader. Develops the confidence, knowledge and skill to be an effective leader. Uncovers a range of leadership techniques and methods and how to apply them in practice

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