Thursday, 10 October 2013

So, what is leadership?

I work for Merlin, the charity that has just become part of Save the Children. It’s a time with lots of changes and challenges.

I’ve just spent the last week on a Leadership Development Programme. An intense, immersive, tiring, but ultimately exhilarating, experience.

I learned a lot on the course. About myself. About others. And about how ‘myself’ can work with – and for - others. I saw some of my behaviours reflected back at me – and some pleased me, some shocked me.

I wrote a lot of things down and just wanted to share some of the points/ideas/thoughts that resonated the most. You may have heard some, all, none of this. But read on. Something may resonate with you too.

Think of someone whose leadership you admire

We were asked to think about the essence of their personality, their moral compass, how they respond in the moment and how they look for collaboration.

Interestingly the names that people mentioned were world figures. People like Churchill, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Angela Merkel and more.

But who sprung to my mind? Actually, it was someone closer to home. Someone who I admire in the fundraising sector, someone who I do count as a friend, but whom I see achieve great things with her team, and who does display courage, who always remains optimistic.Who accepts their weaknesses, and who builds excellent teams - and brings out the best in them.

So, think about these people, and why you would follow them. And ask yourself, why should anyone be led by you?

Follow your passion and you will find your purpose

And others will follow. Can you be a leader without the ability to know when to follow? Ask yourself, what was I born to do as a leader? What is your leadership signature – what makes you unique and different?

I heard that the 1st rule of leadership is ‘know thyself.’ And that the 2nd rule is ‘be yourself more with skill.’

Importantly, and for someone who is terrified by being perceived as weak, I learned that it’s ok to reveal a weakness. It’s what you do about it that counts.

Focus on the things you can influence

This felt particularly poignant at this point in my career, and really helped me think about my behaviour and what I could influence.  There was talk of reducing your circle of concern and increasing your circle of influence.

Put simply, there are things that you simply can’t change, so use your energy to focus on the areas you can. And just by shifting my focus I feel more in control. I feel better for it.

The people

As a manager/leader it’s easy to spend lots of time on the people that don’t perform as well. You want them to grow, learn and develop. But don’t forget to spend as much time with your best people. If you spend all your focus on those who need more development you deprive yourself of the opportunity to be motivated and invigorated by them, their ideas and their energy.

What does inspiration actually mean? We talk a lot about inspiring leaders but what does someone ‘inspire’ you to do?  You might find them motivating or engaging, but did they actually inspire you to anything? 

However, this brings to mind the words of that great philosopher, Dolly Parton: “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”

Leaders set the standards of behaviour and the culture of an organisation. So think about what you want to demonstrate. A great quality is optimism. Wouldn’t you rather work in a culture that is positive and optimistic? If so, set these standards. People rarely leave brands – they leave bad managers and leaders.

And on those ponderings I will leave you. There are more, but this post is getting long. Any more, please do leave them in the comments.


Danielle Atkinson

Saturday, 5 October 2013

My charity crush #1

“If you do a job you love, you never actually work a day” – Or something like that!

I've had many a crush in my time, from the ridiculous, I was convinced I was going to marry Craig David (pre Bo Selecta I hasten to add) - to the fruitful - I had a crush on my last boyfriend for over a year! So I like to think I know a thing or two about them.  When I was asked to write about my charity crush, for my debut Charity Chicks Blog however I really didn't know where to wasn't something I'd ever thought of to be honest!

As a lover of the sector - yes I refer to myself as a "lover" of the UKs’ Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) - you would think I'd have my favourites, but like they say a mother is with her children, I really do love them all.

You don't need me to tell you, we have a phenomenal VCS here in the UK. For the most part we are representative of the needs and issues reflected in our communities, from health and social care to environmental and forestry issues, we lobby parliament, influence policy, fundraise billions, infuse community spirit, and we make a difference, a huge difference each and everyday. How can I possibly choose just one?

That is the task I was given however, and being of African heritage, there are Black and Ethnic minority (BME) organisations that have really made a difference in my life. Black Cultural Archives, for example has provided me with an invaluable porthole into my history, the experiences of black people and how we were treated by society- from local governments to landlords.

BCA as a charity, from governance to fundraising, staffing to projects and events has had its trials already. They have both Local Council (Lambeth) strategic support and Heritage Lottery funding, which no doubt has made for an eventful few years.
Like many 3rd sector organisations, am sure there will be more trials and tribulations to come before the grand opening of the new home of BCA in the heart of Windrush Square in Brixton with funding and staff turnover being two things to think aboutl.  

However let’s think about the magnitude of BCA, their past, present and what’s to come.  The work of BCA provides me and you with an informed understanding of what it really meant to be Black British, how we got here and ensures that we as a people – black and white will never forget.

The Director once had a very frank conversation with me about the expectation history itself has of me as “black British,” the role I play in BCA’s development and how all races of my generation and beyond interacts with black history via the Archive. I’d put money on the fact that most of you reading this may not even be aware we had an archive dedicated to the history of the presence of blackness in the UK, but you do now!

Black Cultural Archives is one of my greatest charity crushes!

Joining Charity Chicks and sharing my views, opinions, experiences of my beloved VCS with you all is very exciting! The range of work we cover, and the outcomes we deliver have shaped and re-shaped societies. Some campaigns are stronger than others, some causes more "fundable," and a lot of organisations are only as strong as the ability of their current CEO - these are facts. Ugly, but facts none the same.

We have charities that have annual budgets to rival a small country, policy writers and campaigners that are changing the world, making sure the human heart isn't replaced with an app and leaders who, if they were politicians really would make the world be a better place.  

The VCS is far from perfect, there are a number of things in the sector that irritate the life out of me and I'm looking forward to writing all about them, but as we have established I am a lover of the sector and I’m equally excited about sharing the ins and outs, up and downs of our budding relationship.

Follow me on Twitter @thefaithabbey

Faith Abbey