Njoki Yaxley

Njoki came to England 14 years ago from Kenya and lives in Norwich.She initially studied at the University of East Anglia where she successfully completed a law degree.

She first fell in love with the housing sector whilst volunteering for a local Citizens Advice Bureau, when she was asked to write a report looking at the plight of housing for ex-offenders. This sparked her passion for the sector and she then went on to work for a national housing association whilst also completing a Masters Degree in Housing and Regeneration. During this time she took on a variety of roles including helping customers struggling with rent arrears right through to securing grant funding for new affordable housing developments.

She currently works within a governance and compliance team at a social housing organisation where she is responsible for co-coordinating the group’s internal audit and risk management program. She is also the Clore Social NHF sponsored fellow (2014).

In one to three sentences, describe your leadership style when it comes to supporting others.

I tend to be very directive- explaining things very clearly. I’m trying to flex my style so it is less directional and more flexible

How has your style changed since you began leading and supporting others? Which techniques and approaches have you taken up, and which have you discarded?

In my earlier years, I was really good at delegating and ensuring we performed as team. I also chose people for their strengths. Over the years, I think I’ve forgotten this technique and perhaps stifled this aspect of my leadership

How would you define the purpose of supporting staff in their roles?

I would say purpose is to enable them to make and take decisions effectively. Knowing that they are able to resolve most problems without relying on too much direction

How do you set expectations?

I try to be as clear and as honest as possible. I also try to listen to what the person has to say—if there is not much use for them, then it’s best not to proceed and perhaps try and do it in their preferred style

What approaches do you find particularly successful when managing or supporting others? Is there a difference between how you help teams or groups, and how you work with individuals?

I would say that the most successful is when I use the ‘more time to think’ approach coupled with pertinent questions (in other words a sort of coaching methodology). In teams or groups, I would use simple questions—there is a system we use at my organisation called UIC—that works well for us.

In an ideal world, with fewer deadlines and meetings and other pressures, how would you like to bring out the best in your team?

I would like to be able to let them lead more, and take on more ownership and responsibility, beyond simple delegation

Reflecting on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, what opportunities are there for you “scaffold” growth and development amongst your teams? What challenges are there?

The opportunities lie in 121- or face to face opportunities, as well as securing help and connections where possible for faster growth. The challenge would be in getting or changing culture to allow for the growth, as well securing funds to enable that growth to happen.

Paolo Freire was a proponent of a co-designed approach to education. To what extend do you involve your team in the design of a project that they are working on? What are the benefits and limitations of this approach?

This is actually something that we do at our organisation relatively well. So project or teams are designed co-creatively and using experiences of all the teams. The benefit of this, is that projects actually deliver what they set out to do, and work is shared relatively fairly across teams. Also the actions or changes are set out in a way that they understand. There are some limitations when trying to use this process, but overall it is very easily understood.

Angela Duckworth has developed a system for tracking character strengths. In your opinion, how important are these strengths or soft skills? Do you have any approaches or processes for recognising them in your organisation? When is it useful, and when is it not?

I would say they are actually the soft skills she describes are the most important thing to develop in life generally. I’ve often thought it is perhaps the main thing required in life—and valued it more so than actual educational attainment—as it is what I can attribute a lot of my successes (and failures to). I would say it is useful when the person is working in the comfort zone/ area of strength. It is not useful when the person simply doesn’t enjoy doing the task and is not working from an area of strength. It would also be difficult to measure in terms of performance management, although in reality grit and self control is what produces results.

What is the link, if any, between well-supported teams and the impact that the organisation has?

Well-supported teams in theory should have the best results and impact. A well-supported team would be able to anticipate, avoid and manage a variety of scenarios, being highly resilient and therefore more likely to sustain itself.

How would you define ‘teacher’ or ‘educator’?

A teacher or educator comes in many shapes and forms. I would describe them as a ‘parent, or coach- someone who believes in the person, and their abilities so highly- that they (the person becomes highly successful)

How would you define a ‘leader’?

A leader is someone who similarly encourages people, and hopefully enables them to shine too. I would say that the key difference between them and a teacher is in the expectations that leaders have. Typically, leaders are seen in the corporate view- business-like, successful, and profit minded. They have a variety of responsibilities usually laid out by law and are meant to agree to the wishes of shareholders and boards.

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