The Point

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.


Your paperwork should not trump your people.

“Sorry, John, but I’ve got a pressing deadline—can we reschedule our check-in for next Thursday? Hope the project is on track.”

For many of the leaders I interviewed, although there’s an awareness of the importance of supporting individuals and teams, this aspect of work often gets shunted by deadlines, meetings, campaigns or other frontline work.

So it was good to hear a range of views on why it’s important to devote time and attention to the people that make up the organisation. As Tom Bewick put it: “The organisation is not separate from its people.” There are lots of reasons to focus on the people, but some of the chief reasons are:

  • it enables leaders to bring out the best in indivudals, to glue teams together, empowering and energising them, which in turn leads to better impact on the ground. This view was clearly stated by Ruth Campbell and Kazvare Knox.
  • it is a great way to model how you work with beneficiaries, according to both Diarmuid ÓNéill and Rashid Iqbal.
  • it builds teams’ resilience and enables them “to anticipate, avoid and manage a variety of scenarios” according to Njoki Yaxley.

And if it is possible to find ways of teams or departments to feedback and support each other, all the better. Dame Mary Marsh is a strong advocate for getting people out of their functional silos as this enables them to “gain richer understanding and different perspectives.”

What’s this got to do with pedagogy?

This aspect of leadership links to the importance of feedback in teaching. It’s where a lot of the richest learning can happen. And as Diarmuid points out, “learning is critical to an organisation’s success.” Giving time and attention to individuals—time that is focused on who they are as opposed to the project they are working on—gives the leader an opportunity to listen, respond and adapt to their needs, enabling them to maximise their own potential  and setting them on track to do their best at the job in hand.

In other words, it’s crucial. A brilliant and impactful organisation is more often than not made up of well-supported, energised individuals. Intrinsic motivation for the organisation’s vision can burn out quickly when the leader’s focus is relentlessly on the goal or the beneficiaries and ignores—or forgets to prioritise—the needs of the humans who are helping them to do what they set out to do.

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