Research impact: the importance of effective research management

Tunnel Image

Striving to achieve impact from academic research may appear to be a wholly good thing, but how research leaders and managers interpret what impact means is vital to ensuring they can generate outstanding impact. Catherine O’Connell, lecturer, Liverpool Hope University, asks whether current formulaic interpretations of research impact have a limited, rather than enabling, effect on higher education institutions.

The introduction of research impact to the Research Excellence Framework 2014 prompted significant consternation in the academic community at the time. For some it was perceived as an erosion of academic freedom and increased government control of research agendas. However, a cautious optimism has been evident in some quarters on the potential to broaden the concept of research excellence in a constructive way. The Million+ group, in its response to the Stern Review consultation, indicated that the process would be ‘valuable even if no funding decisions were associated’. The importance of this policy formulation is emphasised by newer universities in recognising and supporting a broader range of applied and translational research, and increased attention paid to delivering on universities’ civic duties. Even more telling is the recently announced decision by Hefce to increase the weighting of impact from 20% in 2014 to 25% in 2021.

So, how do higher education leaders and managers make strategic decisions on how to identify, nurture and select impact examples from research? And how could the Leadership Foundation contribute?

Tunnel vision

Research conducted by Watermeyer & Hedgcoe mid-way through the last REF cycle (2009-2014) highlighted local responses to impact policy in research-intensive institutions. They observed a tendency to frame impact around the activities of individual (and commonly senior-level) academics which can affect the level of resources and support available for earlier career academics in impact-related activities. Watermeyer also identified a tendency among academics to interpret impact in relation to interactions with government, reflecting ‘a rather one-dimensional form of impact as emergent from interactions with a singular research beneficiary/user’. For example policymakers, who are only one specific type of beneficiary from academic research, overlooking industry, public, private and voluntary sectors, as well as the higher education sector itself.

Panoramic view

What is needed is a more critical debate around what impact means, how it can be supported and how broadening the definitions, mechanisms and support for impact planning can ultimately enhance research impact for public and institutional good. The Leadership Foundation has published research on a data mining exercise of impact from REF case studies on leadership, governance and management, which has informed the development of a toolkit. The toolkit aims to assist research leaders, managers and individual researchers to develop an embedded and strategic approach to research impact, covering a broad spectrum of impact areas to enable different staff groups and stakeholders to coordinate their approach to impact. One such tool (Tool 8, Anticipating the horizon of possible benefits) stimulates thinking about where impact might occur across a whole spectrum of categories – from Culture to Policy, and Technology to Environment – and uses prompt questions to discern the nature of such potential impact.

Analysis of the 46 impact case studies in my area of higher education -focused educational research demonstrated greater diversity of impact activities than anticipated by earlier research. There is only limited information in the public domain on those studies which achieved 3 and 4* but, of the case studies where grading can be determined, several reflected pedagogic research and impact strategies aimed at broader policy communities.

Why the narrow face?

To understand this better, I have interviewed academics who have suggested that instead of a broad interpretation of impact, a more formulaic response to impact was described in many cases which seemed to prioritise particular forms of research (based on prevailing hierarchies of research reputation) and effectively narrow the parameters of national REF impact policy:

My university wants impact supported only by 3 or 4 star research – I think that’s a mistake. 

Several interviewees, in senior academic positions, reflected on the advice they were inclined to pass on to early career researchers; effectively to advise against pursuing particular forms of research, such as research conducted with policy communities rather than policy makers. The disenchantment expressed was troubling and reflected largely negative experiences of local management of REF impact policy:

So we’ve got this mad game playing now where you start to decide what is and what isn’t impact in quite draconian ways…  so they’re already starting to be shaped up and crafted, and then anything else that’s outside those case studies, whether it has impact or not, it doesn’t really matter because they’re not important…

Impact leadership to enable

Impact brings a new element to research evaluation policy that gives conceptual and managerial space for interpretation. The Leadership Foundation 2014 report ‘Academic leadership: changing conceptions, identities and experiences in UK higher education’ emphasises the qualities of management and leadership sought by the academic community: of enabling environments which can nurture the next generation of researchers; fostering academic citizenship and reflecting different ways of making a contribution. Potentially, impact can value a broader range of research activities and give recognition to different types of research contribution. In the Research Leader’s Impact Toolkit, emphasis is placed upon the importance of understanding context, engagement and collaboration at an institutional and research team level.

However, the formulaic and normative interpretations of REF impact policy identified in several organisational contexts suggest that impact policy is having a limiting rather than enabling effect. There are clear challenges but also opportunities at organisational level in responding to this indicator constructively and in defining institutional policy responses which foster inclusion rather than exclusion within the academic community.

As highlighted in my study, in some organisations impact policy is being interpreted in ways that resonate with, and build upon, academics’ research practices in departmental and faculty contexts:

I actually became quite a fan. I thought it was something significant and important and it brought to light some of the research people were doing that was having really significant effect in people’s lives […]  That kind of research hasn’t necessarily been valued.

Having a critical debate to develop and define local impact policies and practices, from the strategic to the operational, can be an important first step in this journey – and resources like the Research Leader’s Impact Toolkit will be a valuable companion.

Catherine O’Connell is a Lecturer in Education Studies at the Centre for Education and Policy Analysis, Liverpool Hope University.

Find out more about our Research Leader’s Impact Toolkit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/RIT

Download Dr Elizabeth Morrow’s report on The Impact of Higher Education Leadership, Governance and Management Research: Mining the 2014 Research Excellence Framework Impact Case Studies: www.lfhe.ac.uk/Morrow5.2

How effective are simulation experiences for leadership development?

One of the most effective techniques we use in our leadership development interventions is to provide leaders with a simulated environment. This challenges them to confront complex, highly interwoven performance management and operational issues. But how effective is this in practice? We spoke with Paul Hessey, Leadership Foundation associate, who leads on this activity on our Leading Departments programme for new heads of department.

How does a simulated environment work?
Based on a very realistic university scenario, this usually involves the programme participants working in groups of six along with three actors who take on the roles of stakeholders and the dean. The simulation is designed to present participants with realistic scenarios they might encounter in their day-to-day work as a head of department. This gives the facilitators the opportunity to help participants’ identify their weaknesses and strengths and enables us to offer guidance and best practice on how to approach difficult situations.

What are the three main benefits of using a simulated environment on a leadership development programme?

  1. Participants are reminded of some simple, robust and powerful theory of influence and learn the skills they need to put that theory into practice in a safe environment.
  2. Reflect and receive tailored feedback on strengths and development opportunities.
  3. Be part of a rich and diverse range of colleagues from both professional service and academic roles, and benefit from observing a wide range of approaches to influencing in action.

Have participants ever surprised you with how they reacted to this type of role playing style activity?
Our approach is more ‘real play’ than ‘role play’ because essentially the participants are experimenting with being themselves in the scenario, rather than taking on a character. In terms of being surprised by how participants react to these activities I am always taken aback by the way participants are committed to a mythical department. They really immerse themselves into the activity and come up with creative ideas and solutions. During a programme’s coaching sessions I found that many participants realised that they want and need to take a more strategic view of their role; in particular delegating more so they can take a step back to better develop and promote their own department through running events and engaging with a pool of stakeholders. These scenarios also increase their awareness of the importance of owning their professional profile and reputation.

What would you say to those who are sceptical about real playing on a leadership development programme?
Real play has an interactive approach which means participants can take a very practical look at how people communicate and influence, and then experiment with different approaches. Real play gives participants the chance to safely assess and practice an expanded range of influencing, management and leadership techniques to help them better engage their own diverse stakeholder base.

Higher education is a very unique sector. In your years of experience of working in different sectors, do you notice any similarities?
Many! People face the same challenges other sectors do in terms of politics and culture. However, in higher education people are perhaps more motivated by their desire to achieve their professional objectives rather than financial incentives. In higher education environments in particular, I’ve noticed that leaders may have less access to organisational benefits and consequences to motivate those around them. They are therefore often seeking to achieve action in their institutions by influencing others without any direct authority or power to demand action. Instead they must find a way to overcome resistance and challenge and encourage staff to buy-in and commit to the mission in a positive way. Many participants have said that they leave the Leading Departments programme feeling more equipped and confident to do exactly that.

Paul Hessey is the programme director for the Leading Departments programme, designed to develop the leadership skills of heads of department. The booking deadline is Friday 6 October, to find out more about Paul or to book onto the programme visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/leaddepts

He is also a facilitator on the Introduction to Head of Department programme for new and aspiring heads of department. The booking deadline is Friday 27 October, to find out more and book visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/ihod

Other Leadership Foundation programmes that use simulated learning environments include:

Top Management Programme: www.lfhe.ac.uk/tmp

Future Professional Directors: www.lfhe.ac.uk/fpd

Talent management – for the many or just the few?

Dr Wendy Hirsh, co-author of Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, the Leadership Foundation’s latest research publication, challenges higher education to consider the development of staff in the same way they would the learning growth of students.

Working on talent management with many organisations, their managers and staff, I often encounter unease and even hostility to the possibility that some development opportunities might be offered to some people but not others. So is talent management for the many or the few or can it be both?

If we unpick this issue from the business perspective first, we see that the ideas of business needs and business risk are very central to what organisations in a range of sectors mean by the term talent management. Talent management is absolutely not about giving employees all the development they would like, but about prioritising business investment in development where it will make the most difference to business effectiveness – and decrease business risk. Therefore it must be central to an organisation’s strategy.

However, often in universities, the human resources and talent management strategy (if it exists) sits alongside the core priorities and can become disconnected. This blog draws from new case study research commissioned by the Leadership Foundation to learn about talent management as practiced in other sectors. A key issue for universities like other organisations is whether to focus development resource on the many or the few.  For example, does a university need to invest in senior leadership, mid-career academics and professionals or helping younger researchers gain the skills and exposure to get their feet on the funding ladder? The answer to this question will always be a mix, but it is unavoidable that the decision will be informed by budgets and capacity if nothing else.

The public sector in the UK has traditionally been very good at investing in those just starting out on their careers and those near the top. This can leave the “middle” neglected. The more successful businesses, for example leading technology and professional services firms recognise the importance of prioritising and developing the capacity of the “middle” by redesigning roles, changing work and skill mix and business practices. The message here is this kind of development is not just about courses but about giving well established staff access to new experiences, extending and expanding roles, such as being involved directly in leading change, albeit supported by  informal coaching, mentoring or perhaps learning sets to practice new approaches. We suggest universities might usefully re-examine the capability of their experienced teachers, researchers and professionals, assess the skills gap and unfulfilled potential and use institutional wide talent management strategies as an enabler for success in an increasingly competitive environment.

We also see some talent management priorities arising from labour market shortages in what companies often call ‘operationally critical’ jobs or workforce groups. For example, some universities find it difficult to fill technician roles when long-serving staff retire or find clinical-academics in areas like medicine when higher salaries can be earned outside the academy. These are national, not institutional problems. Pharmaceutical companies adjusted their training pipelines for technician roles many years ago to accommodate both graduate and vocational routes and to raise skill levels to respond to increasingly complex lab techniques and equipment. Such issues could be addressed by universities sectorally or regionally as well as individually.

The second set of business decisions about priorities is trickier. Will we develop everyone in a particular workforce group to the same skill level or will we sometimes select individuals for more stretching development activities? The trend here in other sectors is clearly to aim for a both/and answer to this question. For example, companies are re-investing in first line manager training for all such managers, because good management is so central to the performance, engagement, development and retention of the people they manage. However, on top of this universal development, a talent management approach may also be trying to spot first line managers who want to progress their careers and have the ability to do a bigger or more complex management job. Depending on the context, a university may be wanting to invest in people already thinking about becoming a Head of Department, or looking a bit earlier for individuals who simply want to grow and are interested in exploring their leadership potential. Such individuals may be offered more stretching developmental opportunities to help them progress their careers and also to test their career preferences. The Leadership Foundation’s Aurora programmes and Athena SWAN does something of this kind for women in academia. So taking a business view, different kinds of development investment may address both the many and the few.

Of course, if organisations try and spot potential for career progression, they need to be very careful to avoid managers just developing their favourites or perpetuating inequalities of gender, race and so on. This is why talent management does have to be inclusive and include relevant definitions of potential for different kinds of jobs or levels in the organisation, test and challenge the views of individual managers and integrate talent management with real time tracking of diversity and inclusion data.

Moving from the organisational to the individual perspective, the idea of a Personal Development Plan is long established. However, other sectors are trying to move this away from being just about courses and to make it individually tailored and genuinely personal – that is related to the strengths and needs of each person and their situation. So we would not expect PDPs to give the same development to everyone doing the same job. PDPs are also being modified to include career-related development as well as development to improve performance in the current job. Talent management explicitly includes talking to individuals about their career aspirations and interests. There is little point developing someone towards being a Head of Department if this is simply not something they want to do or if they show no sign of the people skills required to do it successfully.

In essence talent management brings together these two perspectives and has to be “everyone’s business” and not just human resources “baby”. It needs to focus development where it is needed by the business and where it matches the aspirations and abilities of individuals. When it works well it’s a win-win for the “many” in the organisation and also for the “few” at the level of the individual. But to go down this route, we have to get used to the idea that not everyone needs to learn the same things at the same time in the same way. The best universities aspire to attend to the individual needs and interests of their students – supporting those who needs extra help and challenging those who can go further. Why would they wish to do less for their staff?

Dr Wendy Hirsh is an employment researcher and consultant specialising in career development, talent management, succession planning and workforce planning. Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, was co-written with Elaine Tyler, Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies.

Download the report here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/hirsh5.8

Leadership and the multiplier effect- Andy Cope

Following on from the Leadership Foundation’s Leading and the Art of Being Brilliant, author, Andy Cope shares his thoughts on how being a happy leader is key to your team’s success.

Before you read on, I want to lighten the load on your weary managerial shoulders. Your job as a leader is NOT to inspire your people. Your job is to BE inspired.

But how, when we live in a world of permanent pressure and are bombarded with a gush of information that would have been staggering to comprehend even 10 years ago. This makes me sound crusty but when I first entered the workplace the inputs came from paper letters delivered to the office first thing. These were distributed to my pigeon hole for mid-morning and perhaps again in the afternoon if I was super-popular. I was taught to schedule my phone calls in a batch. Dealing with these tasks would take maybe an hour a day and I was then clear to do the stuff of ‘real work’.

Now this information is the real work. The background noise of 10 years ago has been replaced by the deafening cacophony of screaming emails and texts. Look around your workplace and you’ll see colleagues buzzed up on caffeine and sugar, masking their exhaustion as they count down to the weekend or their next holiday.

The conundrum is that happiness and energy are in short supply, yet they’re vital for business success. Academic research merely confirms what you intuitively know, namely that happy employees are good for business. Cherry-picking a few studies, McNair[1] suggests that energy and vitality inoculate you against mental ill-health; Den Hartog & Belschak[2] report links between happiness and personal initiative; and plenty of others report that happy employees are more entrepreneurial, creative, motivated, productive, energetic, stress-resilient…

If you throw in the fact that happy employees also create an emotional uplift in those around them (thus raising the productivity of their co-workers), then the argument gets ramped up to the next level.

In Connected, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler[3] describe something they call the ‘hyper-dyadic spread’, the tendency of emotions to transmit from person to person, beyond an individual’s direct ties. They make the point almost poetically, describing the complex web of social connections thus: ‘Ties do not extend outward in straight lines like spokes on a wheel. Instead these paths double back on themselves and spiral around like a tangled pile of spaghetti.’ They found evidence to suggest that your emotions have a ripple effect that reaches three degrees of people removed from you. The magic numbers are 15, 10 and 6. If you’ve got a smile and a positive attitude, everyone with whom you come into direct contact experiences an emotional uplift of 15 per cent.

That’s terrific news because you’re raising the emotional tone of your family, friends and work colleagues. But it doesn’t stop there. Those 15 per cent happier folk then pass on their happiness to everyone they encounter, raising their levels by 10 per cent. Remember, you haven’t actually met these 10%ers directly but they have caught your happiness. And to complete the ripple, these 10 per cent happier folk pass your happiness on to everyone they meet by an extra 6 per cent.

But hang on a second. They’re the stats for ‘normal’ people. You’re a leader and Shawn Achor suggests “the power to spark positive emotional contagion multiplies if you are in a leadership position.” (p. 208)[4]. George & Bettenhausen[5] conclude that a positive leader engenders positive moods in their team, coordinating tasks better and with less effort, and Kim Cameron weighs in with the notion of positivity being analogous to the ‘heliotropic effect’; “All living systems have an inclination towards the positive… plants lean towards the light…” (p xi).[6]

So, it transpires that YOU are the secret ingredient in the happiness cake, or the yeast in the organisational bloomer. Whichever metaphor you prefer, the point was made most simply in sentence #3 of this article.

My seminar seeks to give you some clues about how best to sustain and enhance your leadership multiplier effect.


Andy Cope describes himself as a qualified teacher, author, happiness expert and learning junkie. He has spent the last 10 years studying positive psychology, happiness and flourishing, culminating in a Loughborough University PhD thesis. Andy appreciates that his ‘Dr of Happiness’ label is terribly cheesy but it affords him an important media platform. In times of rising depression and an epidemic of ‘busyness’, Andy believes there has never been a more appropriate time to raise the happiness agenda.

He has worked with companies such as Microsoft, DHL, Pirelli, Hewlett Packard, Astra Zeneca and IKEA. He is also a best-selling author having written, ‘The Art of Being Brilliant’, ‘Be Brilliant Everyday’ and ‘The Art of Being a Brilliant Teenager’ (Capstone).

Open Programme Alumni Network Event: Leadership and the Art of Being Brilliant

For more information on the Leadership Foundation’s upcoming programmes. 

References

[1] McNair, D. M., Lorr, M. & Doppleman, L. F. (1971). Manual for the Profile of Mood States.  San Diego: Educational & Industrial Testing Service.

[2] Den Hartog, D. N. & Belschak, F. D. (2007). Personal Initiative, Commitment & Affect at Work. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology 80, pp 601-622.

[3] Christakis, N. & Fowler, J. (2011). Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks & how they Shape our Lives. Harper Press

[4] Achor, S. (2011). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles that Fuel Success & Performance at Work. Virgin Books.

[5] George, J. M. & Bettenhausen, K. 1990. Understanding Pro-social Behaviour, Sales Performance, & Turnover: A Group-level Analysis in a Service Context. Journal of Applied Psychology 75, pp 698-709.

[6] Cameron, K. (2008). Positive Leadership; Strategies for Extraordinary Performance.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. San Francisco.

 

The Recipe for Perfect Leadership – Louise Fowler

Following on from speaking at the Aurora Adaptive Leadership Skills day in Cardiff in May 2017, Louise Fowler shares some key learnings from her 25 year + career in senior marketing roles.

So to save you the trouble of reading all the way to the bottom, I’m going to give you the punch-line right upfront: What’s the recipe for perfect leadership?  Well, you probably already know the answer:  there isn’t one.

But that doesn’t mean, of course, there aren’t things we can all do to improve our leadership skills and capabilities.  All leaders get it wrong, all of the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re not leading, so what are they doing that inspires others to get behind them?

Someone once told me that leadership is being yourself only with more skill, and I think that’s a wonderful thought.

Human beings are innately expert at sniffing out insincerity.  The authentic leader hones and develops qualities they already have and builds on the things they are already good at.

I first found myself in a position of leadership over 25 years ago.   I was offered my dream job being appointed the youngest, and first female, Regional Director for British Airways in Africa, based in Johannesburg. It was scary, but also very rewarding.   Since then, I’ve held numerous leadership roles, mainly in the private sector working for consumer service businesses, but also in the public and not-for-profit sectors where I sit on several boards.

I’m no expert:  I make mistakes on a daily basis, but what I have learned in all the years of trying to lead well is that there is no recipe for successful leadership and what works for one situation may not help you in different circumstances. It also doesn’t matter whether you think you’re leading or not: that’s an assessment for other people to make, not you.

That said, there are some key qualities I think successful leaders draw on time and again and I’ve found there are some personal resources I have repeatedly come back to on my leadership journey:

Leaders need courage.   Courage is about not knowing what the “right” answer is, but being prepared to make a decision anyway.   Great leaders are prepared to make a decision when a decision is what’s needed and to deal with the consequences later if they’ve got it wrong, which quite often, they have.

But courage on its own is risky:  I’ve seen, even worked for, the odd “maverick” whose courage has out-stripped their other qualities and although it might be fun for a while it’s a risky way to operate, and can be destructive.  Leadership relies also on credibility.  This is a really important quality because it comprises two elements:  it’s about not only your capability and competence as a leader, but also about how others see you.

This, I think, is particularly important for those of us who may not conform to the more “traditional” view of a leader.  Although, thankfully, this image is changing, too often people still expect a leader to be an experienced gentleman of a certain age, probably wearing a suit.   If you are a woman, or a young person, or anyone who doesn’t fit that stereotype for any reason, there is a risk you are starting with a credibility gap.  Not your fault, and certainly not fair, but there are things you can do about it.

Remember what I said, though, about authentic leadership.  Trying to conform to what peoples’ mental images are is not the way to go:  trying to be something or someone you’re not is a recipe for stress and disaster. Being clear about what you’re good at, the strengths you bring to the party and the value you add is the best way to disarm any potential discrimination or prejudice based on others’ perceptions.  This is where the “skill” in being yourself comes in.

There are two other qualities great leaders have in my experience, and they fall firmly on the emotional, rather than the rational end of the spectrum.  They are curiosity, and care.

Curiosity is something we are all born with but learn at an early age to curb.   How many of us remember an adult answering our youthful question “Why?” with the rather impatient “because I said so!”? Leadership is born out of curiosity; about the world, about the art of the possible (and not-so possible) and about people.  Great leaders are driven by this and it’s in part what inspires us to get up and follow them.

The final quality is perhaps the most important:  Care.  Leadership is always founded on a deep-seated, sincere care, not just for the people in the organisation but for the organisation overall.   The leader who cares solely for status, power, position or themselves is quickly found out.   Too many “managers” go through the motions, working for organisations or causes that no longer light the fire in their belly.  These are not leaders.  True leaders can’t help but be driven by a care for what they’re working on and who they’re working with.  And that’s infectious.

So don’t go looking for a recipe or a prescription or even advice on how to be a great leader.  Don’t try to copy others, although you can learn from them, but be yourself.  Be courageous, credible, curious and full of care; be the best version of you that you can be and you will find yourself leading.   Enjoy it!

_____________________________________

Louise Fowler is a marketing and brand specialist and founded Davenport Strategy in 2012. Prior to this, Louise has held senior marketing roles at organisations as diverse as British Airways, Barclays and First Direct. Louise has worked in organisations within the private sector, the mutual sector and not-for-profit.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.
Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

 

An Interview with Lynda Hinxman

Lynda joined us in May 2017 as a guest speaker at the Aurora Core Leadership Skills day in London. We took some time to ask Lynda some questions about her career and progression into leadership.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is the ability to create a clear vision and to create the environment in which people can thrive and work together to achieve the vision.

It is about building your own emotional capital in order to effectively engage with others, to motivate, empower and support.

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

The single biggest barrier to progressing my early career was my lack of self-confidence. I worked in a male dominated profession and thought that I had to behave and think like a man in order to progress. I have learnt over time that it is vital to be yourself not only to allow others to get to know you and gain respect but for your own wellbeing.

How important have mentors been to you in your leadership journey?

I have had both formal and informal mentors throughout my career and find them invaluable. They have provided a safe place in which to share and reflect on feelings, thoughts and ideas. They have challenged, questioned and probed but most of all they have provided guidance – I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of Yodas…….but perhaps Yoda himself might say ‘a ponder of Yodas, it is!’

How important has it been for you in your career to have role models and mentors?

Role models engender inspiration and aspiration. In my experience, they have come with no hierarchy attached – my role models have ranged from my dad, male and female bosses, team members, friends to my daughter.

Do you have one golden piece of advice you would give to aspiring women leaders?

As Oscar Wilde said ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken’.

For me this means that you can flex your style and approach to connect best with others without losing the essence of you.

Finally, who is your inspiring woman leader?

Professor Christine Booth, former Pro Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Business School – As she was not only an inspiring business woman but fabulous at connecting with others at a professional and personal level.

_____________________________________

Lynda Hinxman is the assistant dean, employer engagement for Sheffield Business School at Sheffield Hallam University. Lynda is a Chartered Surveyor by profession, and prior to joining Sheffield Hallam University was a senior executive at Norwich Union Investment Management and has held senior surveying roles in the Costain Group and Shell UK.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

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

 

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.

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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.