Blog: Reflecting on great leadership is more than academic

Meeting online for the next element of academic study with Professor Paul Willis and the 2022 Future Leaders cohort felt a bit like logging on to one of those digital catch ups with friends that we all enjoyed (endured?) during the pandemic. With two in-person sessions under our belt already, I was spurred on to see this smart group of friendly faces who I feel like I’ve known for much longer than a few weeks.  

Paul had set us homework after our day in Leeds to think about what makes a great team, our leadership values and the values exhibited by leaders we’ve admired.

Taking some to reflect on what makes a great leader reminded me of some of the people I have had the pleasure of working with in my career so far.

I remember starting a job few years back and very quickly being sent by a manager to accompany a spokesperson on a high-profile media interview. I was nervous but colleagues told me that my new boss must really trust me to let me go it alone so soon. I took a lot of pride in that outing and it was a brilliant start to what was a productive and successful working relationship with the leader of our team. Years on and in a different job, his leadership still inspires me.

I was empowered.

Empowerment is a word that has come up repeatedly during our time with Paul.

So have values that we might think are more akin to friendship than work: trust; honesty; care. Whether it’s a colleague or a friend, we need to empathise with each other to understand each other. Get that right, and teams get things done. It’s easy to raise a cynical eyebrow but it became very clear very quickly that what some people refer to as “soft skills” – empathy, patience, emotional intelligence – are the things that separate the leaders we have admired and those who have left us feeling adrift.

The last few sessions have made me realise how important it is to take some time to reflect. I’ve always been quite clear on which leaders I’ve wanted to emulate but I hadn’t spent much time thinking about why. Understanding the characteristics and values on display in the people I’ve worked with and for has helped me to understand the leader I want to be and how to get there.  

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a classroom. Paul’s sessions gave me a lot to mull over which I had expected. What surprised me is that I have come away with several practical actions I can take into my day job immediately.

I’ve also come away with a 1,250 word assignment – the first in 12 years.  Wish me luck.

Lyndsey Hannam is Head of News at Kensington and Chelsea Council and a member of the Future Leaders 2022 cohort.


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