Ian Wilson – Senior Leadership
24th April 2023
Ian Wilson describes his journey and thoughts as a senior leader in the VCSE sector.
Leadership, on courses and in the books is often linked to a role and a title. My first paid leadership role was at 22 taking on the responsibility for a night shift. This led me to ask early on why should anyone listen to me?
So, my interest in followership. Why do people follow a leader? This is a large part of the deal when employed, we give up some of our personal agency and freedom to the organisation and to the person they put in charge of us. This was invaluable to me when I was put in charge of 120 people who accepted my right to make decisions before I did.
If leadership is the art of persuading people to do something they otherwise would not do, then we can find leadership all around us.
I am also drawn to the definition highlighted by Jess Steele, of Hastings Common – a leader is someone who steps forward to take action.
In our communities the focus on leaders is over blown, more of a convenience for outsiders than a recipe for change. The more important roles are the connectors and citizens, the good neighbours, those who welcome everyone.
Challenges of leadership in our sector include:
The halo effect, just because our purpose is good it does not mean that all our actions are good, often they are not.
Through our well-intended and especially short-lived projects, we reduce the agency of people we work alongside and the quality of their local connections and networks.
Harming others by letting a harmful culture survive and even thrive.
In all these years, at a cost of millions, thousands of hours of time and emotional energy, the quality of life in our communities has not improved significantly. This has been at a personal cost of burn out and disillusionment for many good people.
The hardest times in being a leader, where I was also least effective, have been when I tried to do what I thought a leader should do, rather than being true to what I should do. These have often been times not of greatest challenge or difficulty, rather times when I have been busiest and made the least time to reflect.
In practical terms, what thoughts would I share with my younger self. These thoughts are based on who I am and how I want to work, they will not suit every leader and every situation and context. Hopefully they spark a conversation.
The invitation to leadership is not always a choice, the decision to accept is.
Understand that if you accept a leadership role then you must accept what goes with that role. There needs to be a fit with the role and others’ expectations.
To be at your best and to meet your responsibilities as a leader, be authentic. Look for a good fit to your purpose.
When under pressure our leadership style can change, often in ways we don’t like. Be aware, less you become someone you would not choose to be.
Know the direction of travel and if there is a destination, keep checking that you are on course.
Understand and share the story of the group and the core messages.
Recognise the actions needed, commit to them in a way that comes from the heart – never be cruel. Actions have consequences, understand them.
It is amazing what can be achieved when you don’t worry about who takes the credit.
Manage the complexity, work for simplicity and clarity in communications.
Leadership is about people and understanding the unspoken contract. Not everyone wants to come to work to be passionate and give their all, our lives are bigger than our work. What commitment is ok for the roles you have?
A leader must deal with toxic people and find a way for them to leave with least harm to the organisation and other people.
Leaders are always in the spotlight and their behaviours and minimum standards they accept become the way of doing things.
There comes a time for people and organisations to know when to quit, including when there is a word count!
My final thoughts are make the time and space to think, to recharge and refresh and keep making a difference.
Tagged as: Senior Leadership
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