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.”

Intense feedback

Dr Paul Gentle

I was fortunate enough to flip roles last month, and become a participant on a leadership development programme. In the first five minutes, our group of 20 was told in no uncertain terms to expect a week which would be “feedback-intensive”. The journey we were embarking on would take us to uncomfortable places.

Applying sound principles of instructional design, the programme took us through a rich range of experiences, starting with a simulation. We spent a day running a well-conceived manufacturing company at a turning-point in its strategic direction. Although we needed to take some substantive business decisions, the learning was entirely about our behaviours. How we established and developed working relationships, how we attended to values and culture in the part of the company we ran, and how effective others perceived our leadership to be – this was the stuff of the feedback the programme director had talked about.

The quality of this feedback was phenomenal. It was as far removed as it’s possible to be from a cursory slot of constructive criticism sandwiched between layers of appreciation.

First, we spent half an hour completing an iPad questionnaire ahead of an afternoon’s discussion on our team’s performance. Then we were set what was for me the most challenging task of the week – writing feedback sheets on each of the other six people in my team. Each one had to have three or four examples of behaviour or language in specific situations. What was more, in every case we had to describe the perceived impact for each example on ourselves or on others.

The next day was entirely spent processing this feedback in depth. It culminated in a twenty-minute feedback round for each individual, for which we were given a digital recorder for us to take away what our peers gave us. After hearing six pieces of individual feedback, our group facilitator drew on several pages of observation notes to give us her views on the leadership impact we’d made, with some very sharply-observed points (How had she even seen when I said that? I never even knew she was there!). This was powerful learning, and led to intense thinking on how we handle feedback on the Leadership Foundation’s programmes.

While writing this blog, I felt impelled to go to my digital recorder and remind myself, with some trepidation, of the feedback day. I switched it on, and was relieved, and transported back to the flow I experienced in the programme. I heard one of my colleagues telling me that the first thing I’d done was to “spark an energy to start”. I was ready to listen to what was to come.

Dr Paul Gentle is Director of Programmes

Answering the Whys

Hannah Phung

In preparation for one of our overseas programme, International Leadership Development Programme that takes place in Hong Kong and mainland China, I was drawn to the Education Guardian supplement Eastern horizons (15 January 2013).

The articles, and accompanying online live Q&A, raised many interesting questions on life for academics thinking about making the move to Southeast Asia. I saw even more in this than future work prospects. I asked myself what do I actually know about higher education in Southeast Asia and, this thought was followed by many whys? Why work in partnership; Why emigrate and Why Southeast Asia?

For so many UK universities diversifying – in research, TNE, student recruitment and contacts to name a few, these questions are constantly asked. This is why I reasoned that ILDP Hong Kong has been so popular since the programme began in 2011. It is an opportunity to visit higher education institutions and to ask questions unanswered in these news stories. In his article Professor John Spinks of Hong Kong University, says that the “Chinese government has provided funds for expanding the recruitment of international students and faculty as well as research grants” – this seems very positive but what are the conditions/reasoning behind this? How might this affect UK higher education?

The articles also highlight culture as one of the major area that UK universities really need to understand fully and make sense of when thinking of collaborating with Hong Kong or any Southeast Asian country.

I am a Chinese person born and brought up in Britain with parents who drummed the ‘You can always work harder’ mantra into my head, but the culture around me told me to balance work and play. I felt I understood both cultures well, but I was still shocked when I visited friends and family in Hong Kong and was told by Aunty Lau we could meet before she started work at 8am or after 8pm when she finished!

“That’s a 12 hour day you do Aunty Lau, how do you balance your work and family?”

“What do you mean by balance?”

“I mean have enough time for both work and family”

“Yes I do”

“errr… I’ll meet you after work; I am on holiday I suppose”

There is much you can learn from hearing others’ views and stories, and there will be so many more questions they raise. The best way to find out for yourself would be to take part in a programme such as ILDP Hong Kong, which this year is focusing on the subject of Building International Higher Education Partnerships, so that you can ask the questions you need to and get a taste of the difference for yourself.

Hannah Phung is the International Projects Manager, and her role includes the logistics and co-ordination of the ILDP Programmes.

Where are the leaders?

Dr Paul Gentle

While writing a book proposal a few months ago, I asked my first-year undergraduate son for some feedback on an idea I had for the title. I knew his response would be frank and direct; what I hadn’t expected was the thinking it would provoke in me.

When I gave him my suggestion, he looked nonplussed. “The challenge of inspiring collective commitment in our universities”, I said, already embarrassed that the words weren’t exactly rolling off the tongue.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if his implied disapproval was because the very length of the title took up half the characters in a tweet. Or maybe it was down to the sheer uphill struggle involved in inspiring anything in a university, from his perspective. One way or another, he remained more than usually silent for quite some time.

When asking participants on our programmes (such as Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership) to reflect on where leadership can be found in a university, I’ve often been encouraged by their responses. The starting point is frequently an assertion that leadership isn’t confined to what senior managers do – or middle managers, or indeed necessarily any managers. It simply isn’t automatically associated with positional power.

What really seems to count in many situations, people think, is a set of personal qualities associated with leadership presence. Those individuals who can tap into this successfully are able to invest energy and emotion in relationships, facilitate collaborative conversations and build teams with a clear sense of mutually-agreed direction. People with these qualities can be found everywhere in universities – in the student body, in research centres, in estates and maintenance staff, in teaching teams, in offices… regardless of pay grade.

The challenge for universities is to recognise that they are already ‘leaderful organisations’, and that if they could align personally influential individuals with their institutional direction of travel, they may indeed inspire collective commitment (Bolden et al.)

A few days after our initial exchange, my son called me into his room.

“I’ve got an idea for that book of yours”, he said.

“Oh yes?”

“Yeah – be straight up about it – ‘Who’s in charge around here?’”

Paul Gentle is Director of Prgrammes.

His book title is Engaging Leaders: The challenge of inspiring collective commitment in universities and the first draft will be with Routledge by the end of the summer.