I interviewed ten social sector leaders to discover how they go about bringing out the best in the people who work with them, and whether it has any connection to how teachers bring out the best in their students. I’m breaking down my findings into bite-size bits.  Here’s a bit. The final bit, in fact.


For anyone in education, lesson plans are often headed by the learning aim and objectives, and rounded off with a plenary—ten minutes or so at the end of the class during which students can reflect on their learning.

This is my version of that.

My hypothesis was:

Successful social sector leaders are intuitive educators. They employ a range of techniques to nurture effective teams and bring out the best in individual employees, many of which can be related back to key progressive pedagogical theories.

Apparently if you’re a real deal social scientist, you should set yourself up with a hypothesis that you try to disprove.

Apparently I am not a real deal social scientist.

I interviewed ten leaders in the social sector, all at various stages of their career. None of them had had access, at least early in their career, to training on leading and managing others. Yet despite their diverse backgrounds and roles, and their pot-luck styles of learning on the go, there was consistency in their approaches.

What is clear, above all else, is that there is overlap between the role of a good teacher and a good leader.  That overlap usually contains the ability to:

  • have high expectations, lead by example and model the behaviour you expect to see in others
  • set clear aims and objectives
  • establish firm boundaries about what is and isn’t possible
  • create opportunities for people to co-design and shape their work
  • empathise with others and moderate style of interaction according to their needs (from being firm and directive to open and collaborative)
  • get to know your team members and their willingness to stretch and develop their role and targets accordingly
  • praise strengths and celebrate achievements
  • make time regularly to give positive, specific feedback
  • tackle difficult or failing situations quickly and face on

I surveyed the world of social sector folk to find out I could usefully produce that would enable them to reflect on and improve how they lead and manage people. Their preferences were as follows:

  1. Bite-size examples of best practice
  2. Prompts for personal reflection
  3. Sample questions to prepare for away days, board meetings, team check-ins, 1-to-1s etc
  4. A printable poster of key insights
  5. A curated collection of online resources
  6. A written report

So I’m working with a designer to develop a downloadable sheet with bite-size examples of best practice. And prompts for personal reflection. And a few sample questions.

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