An interview with Brenda Romero

Brenda Romero is a leading game designer and developer. We had the pleasure of welcoming Brenda to our Dublin Adaptive Learning Skills day as part of Aurora in May 2017

1. What does good leadership mean to you?

This is a really interestingly question. There are so many answers, many pieces of advice, and many tips that I have learned on the way. However, I keep returning to the idea of a team enjoying their journey towards a goal. They need good leadership. The leader is the person making sure that their team can do what they need to do. They know the goal. They are committed to it and excited about it. The journey is easy because obstructions have been removed and hopefully, someone is working on crisis intervention – rather than crisis management. If I can keep my team focused and motivated, we shall win. To do that, I believe I have to make sure they have everything they need, by removing anything which gets in their way.

2. At the start of your career what were the biggest barriers to progression you were faced with and what advice would you give to someone aspiring to a leadership role facing similar barriers?

Ironically, I think I was my own worst enemy. When I look back at my career, there are two key things I wish I had done differently. The first is that I should not have stayed with one, family-owned company for 20 years. This sounds fantastic, but, I would have been further ahead, if I had moved onward and upward. However, after only 10 years, I needed new teachers and new lessons so, in terms of advancement, not to mention an equity stake, my opportunities were quite limited.

Secondly, I wish I had been a better advocate for myself. I accepted things that I should not have accepted. I did not take chances. I wish I had. I feared failure. I was more concerned about what others thought rather than doing the right thing. In that way, I was my biggest barrier because I simply didn’t know any better, and I found out the right way by trial, error and introspection. Having mentors to look up to, to consult, would have been so beneficial.

3. What would be some of the milestones that you think “that’s a point where my leadership changed”?

Not everyone is going to like you: As a leader, you will make decisions that are not liked by everyone.

You may have to sack people, lay people off, or be tasked with taking something in an unpopular direction. Ultimately, I find the desire to please everyone simply has to go. I remember the first time I had to sack someone for an absolutely valid offence. There was a lot of gossip but ultimately, it comes down to these questions for me, “Did I do the right thing?” and “Was I respectful of others?” That, along with keeping an open mind, are the key things.

Failure is not the end of the world: We fail all the time. Most of our failings are not public, but I find this is something many of us fear. Generally, we fear losing something we have or not getting something we want. When I did fail publicly, it was painful agony followed almost immediately by blissful glory. Once I had failed, I didn’t feel so concerned about it. I felt more comfortable about taking chances. I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of. Humiliation? Embarrassment? The loss of respect from my peers? None of it happened.

4. What would you say if someone were to ask you, what makes you most resilient?

Sometimes, I genuinely do not know. I don’t really have “I give up” in me. I am blessed with the experiences of my late mother and I’m still gaining experiences from my mother in law. Both women were homemakers who found themselves quite unexpectedly alone. There is nothing in either of their cases that ever displayed an example of “I give up”. They kept going because they had to. There was no other choice. That lesson continues to be an incredibly powerful one, especially when the proverbial “going gets tough” occurs. I don’t know of women any stronger than these two. You keep going because you have to. Help may come, and you may ask for it, but ultimately, you keep going. There is a way through. If you don’t know the answer, someone else does.

5. How important do you think mentors, role models and networks are in supporting women’s leadership?

Incredibly important. When you asked me about barriers earlier, I said that I was the biggest obstacle to my own advancement. Why? Because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t have anyone around me who could teach me. I didn’t even know the questions to ask. Working with someone more experienced, my husband is on his 11th start up, I have learned so much. I don’t hesitate to reach out to experts and we do a bi-weekly expert talk in our company, on topics on which employees ask for advice.

6. How can initiatives like Aurora help women and their organisation achieve their potential?

One of the most important things about Aurora is that it creates a space where like-minded people with similar goals and journeys come together – in search of a common, supportive, solution.

That’s extremely powerful. Having attended events like this in the past, there’s something formidable about being around people who are all aspiring to something greater and who want to help each other reach their goal. Working one-to-one with a mentor is incredibly powerful. Events like this multiply that power by bringing everyone together.

7. Thinking about your career and experiences, what advice would you give your younger self?

I would hand myself a box labelled “confidence,” and make myself swear not to open it. I would tell myself that you might think it’s empty now, but I’m here in the future to tell you that it’s full. It filled up when I took chances and failed, publicly or privately. It filled up when I swapped the “known but not-so-good” for the “unknown, possibly worse” or “possibly better.” It filled up when I was able to respect myself instead of relying on the opinions of others. It filled up when I realised that doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good. It filled up when I stopped worrying and started making things happen. Asking for help, admitting that someone had a better idea, giving myself the freedom to be a fool, none of these things took anything away. That’s why I’d give myself that box and make myself swear not to open it.

________________________________________

Brenda Romero is a leading game designer and developer. Based in Galway, Ireland, Brenda has established two successful game companies – Loot Drop and Romero Games. She now also runs a game design course at Limerick University.

In April 2017, Brenda won a lifetime achievement award from Bafta Games Awards.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research that shows that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions and identifies actions that could be taken to change this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

 

Leading People is Leading Diversity

‘Reality is diverse; therefore a true reflection of reality includes diversity.’  Nancy Kline

Shirley Wardell, programme director of our research leadership development programmes discusses the importance of encouraging diverse thinking and insight into the valuable skills every leader should prioritise.

I have come to think of the skills leaders need to understand the diversity issues as mainstream leadership skills.  To my mind managing people is managing diversity. Diversity goes beyond minority groups and the obvious power imbalances.  Diversity extends to the subtle depth of how we think, which has a direct impact on how well we perform in our jobs.

Diversity grows when people have the ability to hear, openly, what everybody thinks.  Having practised that skill, with people we believe are similar to us, we may be better prepared to listen to those we assume are more different to us.  The charming surprise is; that as Maya Angelou says, ‘We are more similar than we are different.’ Once we have accepted that we are more likely to be similar in a broad way, appreciating the specific differences seems to be the key.  So how can we be sure that we are able to allow, or even encourage, different ways of thinking?

I choose the Thinking Environment® to help me, and my clients, to create the conditions for diverse thinking to flourish. When you run an event in a Thinking Environment®; everyone has a turn. That means; you go round the group and ask everyone what they think.  Sometimes people tell me it takes too long, but they are really stumped when I ask them who they would leave out of the round.

In an event such as this no-one interrupts and participant say; ‘If I don’t interrupt, I might forget my idea?’ And again, they look a bit blank when I ask, ‘What if the person you interrupt forgets theirs?’ Giving turns, not interrupting, appreciating each other, asking how to make things better and a positive philosophy are a few of the ways to get everyone involved in a productive way.

The Thinking Environment® has ten components; however there are a few principles that sum it up for me:

  • The way we listen to someone has an impact on the quality of their thinking.  If we are able focus on them, stop judging and create a time and space for them; the quality of their thinking improves.  At a recent workshop I asked how it feels to be listened to really well and people said they felt valued, important, as if their ideas matter, that they have a contribution to make, happy, it improved their self esteem, relaxed and intelligent.  Well, if all those things can be achieved by, ‘just listening’ we should perhaps put listening at the top of the leadership skills list.
  • When you think on behalf of someone else you are disempowering them.  When you think your ideas are better, or you are simply too busy for them to find their own answer, you are stopping them from thinking and therefore stopping them from learning and growing.  Being able to develop staff has become one of the most valuable assets to Institutions and leaders who can do this will have the evidence of their success in their research output.
  • A positive philosophy is required to help people perform well.  Our expectations will have an impact on the outcomes.  Those expectations include what I expect from the person and what my prejudices are about that person. I need to be able to see there are numerous and unknown possibilities yet to be achieved for every individual.
  • We also need to examine our assumptions about the world.  What we expect to be possible in this office, this organisation, this market, this country and this world; will have an impact on our own and our team’s thinking.  Leadership training needs to explore the assumptions we make and the impact that has on performance; and then show how to, pragmatically, choose assumptions that will help us perform better.

Research Team Leadership and Leading Research Leaders are run in a Thinking Environment® and include many of the reliable principles and actions that help research leaders to think. They are then able to pass that favour on to their teams and collaborators.

The Thinking Environment® was developed by Nancy Kline of Time to Think

Find out more about Shirley Wardell by visiting our website www.lfhe.ac.uk/resprog

Top 11 things those new to higher education need to know

Rita Walters, marketing and communications coordinator, Leadership Foundation shares the insights from colleagues at the Leadership Foundation on what they believe are the key messages for those new to higher education.

1. Higher education is complex
Higher education is a complex operational and regulatory environment with an assortment of constituencies, sector bodies, missions and competing agendas. It will take you time to navigate your way around it.

2. Higher education is diverse
There is no ‘one’ higher education – it’s a highly diverse and broad sector both across and within institutions. You might think that higher education is incredibly behind or incredibly ahead, depending on your role.

3. But higher education does have key core values
It is proud to produce new knowledge and intellectual capital for the public benefit AND contribute to the economy! Higher education institutions contribute £73 billion a year to the UK economy.

4. You will be expected to collaborate
Higher education is an innovative sector that succeeds through collaboration at both the micro and macro level.

5. There is freedom
There are opportunities for progression however you must be proactive. Development takes many forms and up isn’t necessarily the only direction of travel.

6. Get involved
Don’t hide behind your role. Push upwards, ask questions (and be prepared to be questioned), be nosy, offer to participate, reach out, challenge the silo, look for opportunities and value them.

7. And you need to get networked
Network across the sector and across your professional area. Given the complexity and diversity of higher education you will only ‘get it’ by getting out. Be prepared to demonstrate and be confident and credible to get people to listen.

8. Don’t forget the customer
That’s the students, parents and higher education stakeholders e.g. The newly formed Office for Students and the government.

9. Don’t underestimate government and governance
The implications and impact of government policies can be immense, and the landscape of governance is changing – getting this right is key.

10. It takes time to understand the mysteries and magic of higher education
Be ready for a bit of a culture shock but hang on in there, it’s worth it. Be open to change and don’t give up, even though it may not feel very organised or stable.

11. And accept that you will never know all the acronyms
That’s not a bad thing as we have got the full guide on higher education acronyms on our website: Click here to download your copy. If you notice an acronym is missing from the list, please contact me, E: rita.walters@lfhe.ac.uk 

Want to learn more about higher education?
If you are new to the sector and would like to understand the context you are working in, then take a look at our Higher Education Insights programme: www.lfhe.ac.uk/ihe

 

Top 5 lessons for new leaders

In this blog, we share the top five lessons that previous participants on our blended programme for new leaders, Transition to Leadership (TTL) found valuable on their leadership journey.

1. It was crucial to have a safe space to take risks
In order to gain confidence in learning new leadership skills, it is crucial that new leaders have access to an environment where they are encouraged to take risks. No one likes to make mistakes, but mistakes can give us our greatest lessons and having a risk free environment to make them can be insightful.

2. There is not a definitive leadership style
On TTL, we explore a variety of different leadership styles from Commanding to Democratic* and participants noticed that each of them have something positive to offer in any leadership scenario. A good leader will be able to adapt different leadership styles in relation to circumstances or indeed the people they work with.

3. Respect individual differences
Difference within teams is far more useful than homogeneity. If new leaders can understand their colleagues’ different personality preferences, they can adapt their leadership style to steer their team more effectively.

4. Coaching is an undervalued skill
Coaching is essentially about asking the right questions rather than providing the right answers. New leaders will find this an important tool to help build their listening and questioning skills to effectively support the individuals in their team.

5. Clarity is essential when dealing with change
One of the most valuable lessons TTL taught those new to leadership was that whenever change is implemented, it requires clarity in communication and engagement. This isn’t an easy task, however it is important in those situations to find examples of best practice and relate it to their own change experience.

Are you looking for development for your new leaders?
There is still time for your new leaders to take part in Transition to Leadership. The programme takes place through Thursday 16 March 2017– Thursday 22 June 2017 over 3 face-to-face days and 16 hours of facilitated online activities.

If you would like to send colleagues onto the programme please visit our website: www.lfhe.ac.uk/ttl or alternatively you can contact Rita Walters, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, E: rita.walters@lfhe.ac.uk or T: 0203 468 4817.

*The leadership styles mentioned are from a model created by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in their 2002 book, “Primal Leadership.”

The Brexit blogs: what do followers need and expect?

In the latest in our Brexit blogs series, programme director Doug Parkin considers the ART of leadership – authenticity, responsibility and trust.

ART

Let’s turn the whole leadership thing on its head and ask, instead, the question “what do followers need and expect?”  What do they need to follow willingly and with energy and commitment, and what do they expect from leaders in terms of behaviour, communication and relationship?  And before we become too fixated on polarised notions of leaders and followers, it is important to acknowledge that great followers are as important as great leaders. Most of us occupy both roles in our lives at different moments and in different ways, and there is often a grey line between the two as leadership is shared and followers become empowered.

Starting from perhaps quite a low base, following the recent EU referendum and Brexit decision, trust in public/political leadership has taken quite a battering and a real appetite seems to be emerging for more authentic, genuine and sympathetically attuned or connected leaders.  These are themes consistently engaged with on Leadership Foundation programmes.

Authenticity – a little thing called integrity

There is a courage that sits at the heart of authentic leadership that is about showing who you really are through “being” who you really are: the big difference, for example, between saying you have integrity and showing you have integrity. Authentic leaders do not lead from behind a mask.  James Kouzes and Barry Posner had, at the core of their enquiry into leadership, the question “what do you most look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction you would willingly follow?” The leadership quality that was ranked consistently top over more than 20 years by a very large set of contributors across six continents was “honest”.  Their work shows this to be “the single most important ingredient in the leader-constituent relationship” and that “regardless of what leaders say about their own integrity, people wait to be shown; they observe the behaviour”.  The top four personal traits and characteristics for willing and committed follower participation, identified with remarkable consistency, are:

  • Honest
  • Forward-looking
  • Competent
  • Inspiring

Responsibility – misleaders

Leaders also have a responsibility to be honest in their communications and engagement, particularly around change and when portraying a vision of the future.  Manipulating people either through the content and manner of communication, or through the style and timing of engagement, will cause the leader/follower relationship to crumble or, worse still, turn toxic.  There is certainly a sense-making role for leaders, particularly when operating in complex and uncertain environments, and that may involve putting across the truth of a situation “as I see it”.  But that is very different from misleading people, or preying on their fears and insecurities to sell a particular position or develop a sense of urgency.  Leaders should be “dealers in hope” (Napoleon Bonaparte), not peddlers in fear, and, whatever the situation, they need to live by the principle that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In their 2011 book of the same name, John Rayment and Jonathan Smith identify four main types of MisLeadership: missing, misguided, misinformed and Machiavellian. Alongside these, particularly the cunning and duplicity of the Machiavellian leader, we could perhaps add a fifth form of misleadership, the knowingly misleading leader.  To knowingly mislead in a trusted leadership role is quite simply a betrayal of responsibility – a betrayal of followers.

Trust – the glue that binds followers and leaders together

Integrity is fundamentally about the person of the leader and the degree to which they are able to inspire trust and carry respect.  The importance of trust for successful and engaging team/organisational leadership cannot be emphasised enough: “trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together.  A survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management and the journal Management Today in 2009 used the following six dimensions to establish an index of leadership trust: ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency.  The findings of their survey of over 5,000 UK employees pointed to one clear conclusion, “integrity is the foundation of trust and it grows in importance with seniority”[1]Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, takes this still further by making trust the core foundation of high functioning or high performing teams.  And linking back to authenticity, Lencioni teaches us again the importance of honesty and vulnerability in leadership:

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Megatrends survey in 2013 revealed that just 37% of employees trusted their senior managers.  (One could speculate, perhaps, where this figure might be with regard to national political leadership at the current time…).  This built upon a series of case studies published the previous year calledwhere has all the trust gone?  Following this, in 2014 the CIPD produced a research report called Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders, which identified four pillars of trust:

  • Ability – demonstrable competence at doing their job or fulfilling their role.
  • Benevolence (genuine concern) – a concern for others beyond their own needs and showing levels of care and compassion.
  • Integrity – adherence to a set of principles acceptable to others encompassing fairness and honesty, while avoiding hypocrisy.
  • Predictability – a regularity of behaviour over time.

Column

Authenticity begins in the heart and works outward through the values we embody and the behaviours we display.  The integrity that flows from this creates a core responsibility for leaders not to mislead others for their own purposes.  And, to complete the ART of leadership, trust is the essential ingredient in the leader/follower relationship that enables teams and organisations to flourish.

Doug Parkin is a programme director for the Leadership Foundation and is responsible for a range of open programmes – including Future Professional Directors, Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership and Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching (in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy). He also undertakes bespoke consultancy assignments for universities and works on some of our main international projects. Key interests include educational and research leadership, the leadership of professional services, strategy development, organisational change and leadership for sustainability.

[1] Campbell, S. (2009). The Truth about Trust, Index of Leadership Trust Special Report. Edge Magazine, The Institute of Leadership & Management, UK, September 2009: 20-25

The Brexit blogs: owning the grieving process

Master Photo

Cindy Vallance on the mood and leadership responsibilities after the referendum

Early on the morning that we learned the UK had voted to leave the European Union, I found myself reeling with the news. The first person I spoke to that day was the man who handed me a free newspaper to read on the train. He asked me, “What was the result?” When I told him, struggling to hold back my tears, his response was, “this changes everything.”

On my train journey, I was surrounded by a group of young teens on their way to school. Brexit was their only topic of conversation. Around me, commuters were glued to their mobile devices, plugged into news channels and early morning broadcasts, looking for answers in a world that had seemingly turned upside down.

I was on my way to a leadership programme session with a group of senior staff at one of the Leadership Foundation’s member universities. Travelling to the event, I asked myself, how can I possibly focus on the planned agenda and what will the group want? Will they even come to the session or will I find myself alone in the room?

I was unsure whether to be happy or disappointed when, one by one, the group members entered and sat down. There was a part of me that simply wanted to be left alone with my own thoughts, to grieve. Yes – to grieve. A strong word, a word we do not use lightly. However, when I asked the group how they wanted to spend our time together, one of the first comments a participant shared was “I feel as though I am grieving over something I have lost.”

Somehow, this acknowledgement helped set the stage in a positive way for the discussion that followed. Naming that feeling, naming grief and putting it boldly on the table, meant that we could all be honest and share our responses to the news in a very real way, opening the door for us to also work through other emotions.

Many will be familiar with this sequence of words: grief, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. It is from the grief cycle model developed in the 1960s by psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross[1] to describe the process that terminally ill patients progress through when informed of their illness. Since that time many adaptations have been made to the original model and applied to the process that people go through when experiencing organisational change. Here’s just one example of a commonly used ‘Change Curve’[2]:

Change Curve

A positive outcome from that session on the day of the Brexit news was the common conviction expressed by those in the room that one of their leadership responsibilities is quite simply to be there for their staff and students as they work through their own emotions. Naming our feelings and allowing others to do so is a step we must take to work through what is, and will continue to be, a deeply emotional issue.

Cindy, is the Leadership Foundation’s Assistant Director, Membership. She liaises with higher education institutions in London and across the South and East of England developing relationships with our members, coordinating events and leadership development initiatives that support and complement individual institutions’ strategies and the higher education agenda.

[1] Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. Macmillan

[2] The Change Curve,  is in our  Knowledge Bank resource,  a Leadership Foundation membership benefit.

Other sources of information

Kubler-Ross’s original book was On Death and Dying – here is the link to the more accessible version of the work: On Grief and Grieving.

A view from higher education using the same model: Seven stages of grief on the way to acceptance

 

 

Reflections on Aurora

The Leadership Foundation’s former International Projects Manager, Hannah Phung shares her thoughts on year one of the Aurora programme.

One of the Aurora cohorts

An Aurora year one cohort

I’ve been on personal development programmes before including a Future Leaders’ programme and I benefited from each one, but from the outset, there was something different with Aurora. I don’t know if it is because of Ginnie’s vision for it or if the idea of 200 women in a room triggered something, but I definitely wanted to participate.

I enjoyed taking part in Aurora with a group of LF colleagues. The camaraderie of going through the process together meant we shared experiences and became closer as we opened up to each other. This openness and willingness to share was a major characteristic of Aurora. It meant some of the benefit came from the presentations and speakers but most came from the experiences, knowledge, advice, support, questions and willingness to listen. Total strangers, delegates I had only just met gave to me and I could give back as we shared our challenges. I’ve not experienced such openness on a programme before. It wasn’t just at the tables we sat at or my action learning group it was wherever I was in the Aurora environment. I really did not expect such openness and bonding between strangers, especially in the space of a few hours. A culture is created in Aurora that makes this happen.

The four Aurora days were great. There were things I had learnt before, which on learning again, reinforced and ignited ideas and actions. There were also things that were new; some I have used already and some I know that I will use in the future.

I remember a message, Aurora contributor, Sue Stockdale communicated at the very first Aurora day, Identity, Impact and Voice – “Seize opportunities, if you don’t try you don’t know.” I have said this to myself before and I have acted on it before. Maybe there is something that pushes you a little bit further when you hear it regularly and hear that other people have taken that advice with success.

I saw an amazing job advertised three days before the deadline…  I had to go for it.and I am delighted to say that I got it. I got it!

As I prepared for my new role I took on Jenny Garrett’s advice about ‘experiments and risks.’ I experiment more, making small moves to push myself and prove to myself that I got this role for a reason. I wanted to walk into my new role feeling confident.

One thing Aurora gave me which I had not had on any of my previous personal development programmes was a mentor. Knowing my Aurora mentor had signed up for the role and was specifically to support me gave me real impetus. I took control and initiated the meetings. These were some of the points that I raised: “I have a big challenge coming up and feel daunted by it.” “Something has been bugging me for a while and I don’t know how to approach it now.” “I want to be more confident when…”

The mentor meetings were hard work at times but I left each one feeling positive and energised. This really was the most useful part of Aurora for me, as it gave me time to think about the specifics and have the support of someone who was there to work with me to apply who I am and what I have learnt from Aurora and beyond, to my specific situations and aspirations.

Attending Aurora allowed me to step away from my desk and be selfish. A cornucopia of information and inspiration filled every Aurora day and related activity. Like a cross between the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory characters Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt I took and took; from speakers, from participants and from my mentor, and I hope I gave as generously as I had taken.

The reality is that I don’t know how much of Aurora contributed directly or even indirectly to my getting the job, but I do know I will be using lots of the things I have  learnt from it for many years to come.

Hannah Phung is Project Manager (Museography) Zayed National Museum at The British Museum, a role that she took up in June.

Aurora year two begins next week and will be taking place in London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Sheffield, use this link for more information: Aurora