Kazvare Knox

Kazvare is the CEO of youth charity Spark+Mettle. She joined the organisation initially as an intern and in three years has grown to take the lead after I went on maternity leave. I have been amazed by her constancy and commitment to supporting those who have been working alongside her, and learned a huge amount myself from her approach to bringing out the best in others while also holding them to account.  Kazvare has worked with young people and has done so for many years, both in local government and with charitable organisations. She has been managing and supporting others in a professional capacity for ten years.

Kazvare has also set up her own graphic illustration and design venture and she has previously been contracted to do freelance design work for BBC One’s popular reality show The Apprentice. She also loves books and has been a longlist reader for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the past two years. She has a BA in Classics from Warwick University and an MA in African Studies from The School of Oriental and African Studies.

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

I really like structure and clarity; I think it’s great for productivity and morale for people to know what they’re doing and what is expected of them. I try to foster an environment where the whole team feels listened to and valued. Within the bounds of an overall structure and strategy, I also believe in having flexibility and letting others tackle their tasks with creativity and initiative. I strive to work with excellence so I think leading by example is important. This is all the aim anyway!

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?

I first started supporting others aged 6—I think that being the eldest child is the best training ground for leading others! However, I think I’ve learned the most from watching other people. My past two jobs have probably most informed my style. In my former, I picked up tips on how to formally manage supervisions and in my current role, I have learned the importance of helping people play to their strengths. I think in both, I have seen that encouraging a team and/or individuals is both crucial and fruitful.

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

The purpose of supporting staff is to empower them to do their job well and effectively. This in turn helps the organisation overall, so the larger purpose is to have a brilliantly functioning organisation.

How do you set expectations?

The first place to start is the contract and job description. I think also sharing the organisation’s overarching aims and vision and how each person’s role feeds into that is key. From there, I think having agreed monthly and quarterly goals and targets is good and then checking in at the appropriate times to make sure that these are met.

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 think that across the board clarity, honesty and kindness go a long way!

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

As a starting point, I would love to be able to spend a good proportion of time really exploring what the team’s strengths are—their own individual gifts and talents, and how these then benefit and blend into the wider team. In an ideal world, each team member would have a coach to work with them and as an organisation, we would carve out regular, consistent times in the year to make sure we are all playing to our strengths.

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

Regular supervision meetings have been a great opportunity to scaffold growth and development. Time is a consistent challenge—making sure that a good amount is carved out each month for each person, amidst other commitments, deadlines and meetings. Another challenge for me would be that although I have learned a great deal through my own experience and watching others, I would love to have more training so I can be more effective in helping my team grow and develop further.

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?

I think this is super important. Especially because not all my ideas are always that great! The benefits of this are that people feel more invested, and sometimes some great things are produced as a result. At other times though I think that having ‘too many cooks’ and ideas can be detrimental to a project. There should always be points though where other people are informing the design of a project.

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?

They are hugely important! I’ve woven in character strengths exploration into the induction period so that I can see which strengths that the new team member has. I also started weaving this into their monthly and quarterly goals—so asking them to think about how they might use their strengths to achieve their set KPIs.

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

I think there is a strong correlation between the two. An organisation is made up of teams and people, so it should follow that if the teams of people are well supported, the organisation as a whole will benefit.

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

Someone who is able to instruct another person or other people, or impart knowledge and ideas.

How would you define a ‘leader’?

Someone who is able to influence and inspire others; someone who is able to provide vision and guidance.

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