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.

________________________________________

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.

 

Leadership Foundation Research Impact – Working for Wales

science-banner-3

Professor Fiona Ross reflects on the impact that our stimulus paper on research funding in Wales has had on prompting the Welsh government to make positive steps towards supporting and encouraging research in the nation.

Last year Peter Halligan and Louise Bright (2015) published a paper on the Case for Growing STEMM Research Capacity in Wales. Theirs is a story of research funding for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) in Wales. It provides a powerful review and explanation for what appeared to be Wales’s poor comparative research performance and productivity compared to Scotland. We published it in our stimulus paper series and this blog reflects on its impact.

The Leadership Foundation’s stimulus paper series is designed to support thought leadership and to provide the sector with an opportunity to challenge established perceptions and discuss them from a new position. Independent from disciplinary lobbying, government policy making and mission group, over the years the Leadership Foundation has offered an alternative space for incubating ideas on leadership, challenging the status quo in leadership, publish and disseminate for greater impact through its network of member institutions. We thought this was the ideal vehicle for this research.

Halligan and Bright’s paper is a detailed and longitudinal policy analysis of comparative data on research funding in Wales. It is not for the faint hearted and does not leave a stone unturned! It lays out the drivers behind the Welsh Office, and subsequent Welsh Government’s focus on an input target of total research council income. It argues that policy reliance on securing Wales’s UK share of Research Council funding had contributed to a misleading and reputational damaging perception of the Welsh university research base. To derive a more complete picture of the STEMM shortfall in Wales, Halligan and Bright calculated the total number of STEMM academic researchers in the four UK nations. Using Wales’s population share of total UK academics engaged in research they found that the academic research workforce was some 0.5% below Wales’s population standard share. Despite this discrepancy, the evidence shows that relatively low levels of Research Council income have nevertheless been effectively translated into high impact research.

Halligan and Bright’s paper concludes that the critical problem lay not in the quality of the science being done in Wales, but rather with the inadequate size of the science base and the number of researchers in STEMM. So what has been the impact from the paper and what happened? The Welsh Government listened, the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) acted swiftly though her Ser Cymru programme to deliver an ambitious strategy to increase research capacity in science to enhance economic growth.  To achieve this, the CSA brought together a number of initiatives involving COFUND funding from the EU Horizon 2020 and the European Regional Development Fund in association with Welsh Universities. This amounted to over £50M to support a capacity building programme to fund over 100 new fellowships in science. This is providing support for large scale doctoral training schemes, postdoctoral rising stars and promising research leaders and support for scientists (particularly women) returning to their fields after a long absence.

I am often asked about Leadership Foundation research outputs and what difference they make? The honest answer is it varies. Sometimes we hit on a winner, like Halligan and Bright. But impact does not happen by accident. It is a complex process. Here it took compelling evidence supporting the case for change, authors who were both authoritative and influential, a receptive policy context and respectful and longstanding relationships between government and academic institutions. Our analysis of LF impact shows the secret is about the quality of commissioning, and being able to anticipate the “burning platform” issues, working hard with authors to ensure quality and using the LF network to provide a conduit for dissemination and exchange of ideas. It has worked for Wales.

Professor Fiona Ross is Director of Research at the Leadership Foundation. Fiona leads research and thought leadership with a particular focus on generating learning for organisations on ‘what works’. Fiona has a background in community health and social policy and has worked as practitioner, teacher, research leader and senior manager over a 35 year career in higher education. She has had academic leadership roles at King’s College London, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London where most recently she was an executive dean. She has published widely on policy and care of older people, public engagement, collaborative practice and leadership of change. In addition to her role with the Leadership Foundation she has a part time professorial appointment at Kingston University and St George’s and does research and writes on collaborative governance and evaluating system wide interventions including Kingston University’s approach to narrowing the attainment gap for students from BME backgrounds. Fiona has recently been appointed Chair of the Board of Trustees of Princess Alice Hospice, which delivers end of life care in Surrey and South West London. She was awarded a CBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list for services to health care and higher education.


References

Welsh Government Delivering Science for Wales 2014-15.  Annual Report on the Strategy for Science in Wales p.2, p.6, p.7, p.16

Welsh Government Delivering Science for Wales 2015-16.  Annual Report on the Strategy for Science in Wales p.3, p.12

About the research authors

Professor Peter Halligan is the Chief Executive of the Learned Society of Wales

Dr Louise Bright is Deputy Director of Research and Business Engagement at the University of South Wales and the former Leadership Foundation Associate Director for Wales.

About our research
Our goal is to commission, develop and disseminate path finding research and resources which have originality, utility and impact to the sector. To view our latest research, click here

About Leadership Foundation Membership
We are a membership organisation of and for a sector that has some of the brightest minds in the UK. Our members are key to our strategy and form a community of higher education institutions with a clear commitment to and experience of developing leadership, governance and management capabilities at all levels. Academic and professional services staff from member institutions contribute to our programmes, projects and research and advice on benefits and services. To find out more about membership with us, click here

Inspiring Women

hecandoit

By Tom Irvine

I’ve been inspired by two women this week. One of them is Janet Beer, the vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes. She gave a very frank and candid interview  recently where she described the challenges she faced as she built her career. I was struck by her ability to balance the demands of family and professional life – and the struggle that many women face when it comes to reconciling those demands. We hear a lot about glass ceilings and the macho culture that dominate our institutions – perhaps factors that – as Janet points out – do result in only 10% of VCs being female. I’ll come back to this if I may when I reflect upon the Leadership Foundation’s female-only *Aurora leadership programme for early career aspiring leaders.

The other woman who has inspired me is my wife Helena. We laughed at each other some years ago when we were both sitting on the settee, side-by-side, reading magazines. The telly was off, the bairns tucked up in bed, and we had a bottle of wine to share. We looked over at each other at the same time – just as you do. We laughed, shook our heads, and got back to our reading. I was reading the Sainsbury’s magazine looking at recipes and she was reading What Car checking out the brake horsepower of the new car she fancied. That pretty much sums us up.

But why am I inspired by Helena? Partly because she manages that balance of family and career and partly because of the way she does it. She has a tough job as a housing director – a job that I just couldn’t begin to comprehend. But equally we have each made very significant compromises to make that balance happen for each of us. But she does it with grace, patience and a sense of humour.

I once had a job in London that took me out of the house– from early to late five days a week while we lived in Yorkshire. That really hurt Helena’s career – but we had agreed it was ‘my turn’ to have the time to attend to mine. She took over the caring responsibilities. On the other hand we have moved home twice to follow her career and family needs. I was a management consultant when we made our move from Chester to Worcester so that she could take up her first directorship in Birmingham. That hurt my consultancy business for a couple of years, but it went with the territory. All the way through our marriage we have played this game of swings and roundabouts – where we took turns at scaling the greasy career pole, with the other doing more of the childcare and homemaking.

What’s all this got to do with a women-only leadership programme? We hear a lot about the many barriers to women as they try against the odds to build a career that has some balance to it. These cannot and should not be underestimated. The LF’s most popular research work (by a country mile) is Louise Morley’s stonkingly good Women and Higher Education Leadership: Absences and Aspirations. The new Aurora programme is seeking to do something practical about this.

I do have a fear though that some men are part of the problem here, and not just the collective ‘macho’ culture. I had to learn to be more fair-minded I must admit, and it wasn’t easy for many years. But I had a patient teacher. My hope is that as the years pass that couples will increasingly engage in that very difficult game of swings and roundabouts. Men may have to accept greater responsibility for parenting to help their partners make their career transitions. My hope is that the Aurora programme will help aspiring women leaders to ‘fix the men’ and to help create a fairer balance based on merit and not gender – or any other ‘difference’ for that matter. Buy your man a subscription to BBC Good Food and laugh while he reads it – it will do him the world of good!

Tom Irvine, leads the LF’s Consulting team

*The Aurora programme begins this autumn in London, and will also run in Bristol, Manchester & Glasgow.

Leadership in Saudi Arabia: women’s perspective

IMG_0230 IMG_0224

By Rebecca Nestor

In June of this year I was privileged to work with a group of sixteen high-achieving women students at the University of Dammam, Saudi Arabia, on a new five-day programme to support their personal and leadership development. I adapted and customised a programme from one devised for male students delivered by Leadership Foundation associate Glyn Jones in 2012*. The programme aimed to provide a supportive group learning experience leaving participants with insight into their individual personality type and personal leadership style and understanding of high-performing teams, how organisations work, leadership principles, influencing, networking and organisational change. The programme was part of the University of Dammam’s contribution to the current government’s efforts on improving women’s access to the professions.

Dammam gave the Leadership Foundation a high-quality brief, including feedback on the 2012 programme and how they wanted to see the young women’s programme take shape. Just as importantly, they put me in touch with Dr Mona Al-Sheikh, who teaches medicine and is also in the University’s medical education unit. Dr Al-Sheikh proved to be a great partner in the development of the programme. We talked via Skype and exchanged emails while I was adapting Glyn’s design. She gave me some excellent background on the prospective participants, from which I learned that they had been selected not just by their tutors but also by their peers, using criteria including morality and helpfulness as well as their academic performance. And they were, I was told, very enthusiastic about the programme and excited about the opportunity it represented for them. Mona encouraged me to focus the programme on helping participants to understand their own potential and to work together – so plenty of activities, team-based exercises, and personal reflection, processes that she explained would be relatively unlikely to form a part of their normal university studies.

With no previous visits to Saudi Arabia to inform my planning, I wondered what the participants’ previous experience of leadership would have been. In a segregated society, what role models would these young women have seen and how relevant or appropriate would my leadership background feel to them? How could we talk about women’s leadership in ways that respected Saudi culture, Islamic values and my own principles?

The answer turned out to be threefold. First, I drew on my experience of women-only personal development programmes and made community-building a key part of the design. The group started with personal timelines, focusing on important events in their personal lives; they worked in pairs and small groups, returning to the small groups several times throughout the programme so as to build a supportive network; and they practised giving and receiving feedback to each other. As part of this community-building, I shared my own experiences of leadership at community level and to some extent opened up my own life to their scrutiny. One participant said at the end that she had shared things with others on the programme that she had never previously discussed outside her family. Secondly, we discussed and articulated our values explicitly during the programme, both in leadership stories and in the practical activities (see photos). This enabled a focus on the morality of leadership, and of Islamic leadership, which seemed to me to resonate powerfully with participants. And thirdly, my colleague Mona acted as a role model herself, discussed other women leaders, and brought in female leaders in days 4 and 5 of the programme so that participants could hear their stories through the frame of the ideas we had discussed in days 1-3.

I’ve learned a lot from the experience. My cultural antennae have been sharpened, which can only help my consultancy skills; I took some risks in design and delivery, and the programme benefited from it; and on a personal level, visiting Saudi Arabia (albeit only for a few days) was an amazing learning experience for me, and I loved getting to know the women in our programme and understanding a little about their lives. I had a couple of delightful social gatherings, including a trip to the mall, and was the subject of traditional Arabic generosity and hospitality.  I got some great advice on how to fix my hijab properly (though I fear making it stay in place is something that only comes with more practice than I had time for). The photo shows me in the abaya or long gown which was a present from Mona, and with my hijab in place thanks to help from the students.

Reflecting on the relevance of this experience for leaders in UK higher education, I’m struck by the power of drawing on one’s own personal experience, and how this helps engage with others with whom one might have thought one had little in common.

*The 2013 run of the Dammam programme for male students took place in Greenwich, London 26 – 30 August and was led by Glyn Jones. 

Rebecca Nestor is the Director of Learning For Good Ltd, and is an associate and regional co-ordinator of the Leadership Foundation