Reflection

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.


 

When people train to be teachers, they often have to fill in a reflective journal, with questions like these. When I was training to be a teacher, it was one of the most useful learning tools of all. To be forced have the chance to stop and think on what I’d been doing—it was invaluable.

Leaders should be doing the same. Some are. Some have coaches who ask these sorts of questions to them. There are different lists out there. Three questions, tough questions, three more questions. Based on the findings from the interviews, I’m suggesting five, and I would highly, highly recommend regularly (= each month), jotting down your answers somewhere, somewhere near where you jotted down your answers the last time, so you can look back. Blog, notebook, napkin—whatever you like.

  1. What style of leadership have I been using most recently (coaching, directive, flexible, firm etc)? How has it been working?
  2. How has my time been divided between my own work, talking to my team (individually and together), meeting with others? Does anything need to change?
  3. What are the strengths and attitudes that I admire? How do these map onto my team at the moment?
  4. What do I want to see more of? How do people know I want more of it? How can I encourage it?
  5. What have I been avoiding? What’s one thing I can do today about it?
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Plenary

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.

A Venn diagram

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.

 


 

So, after all this, what overlap is there between teaching and leading?

I asked pretty much every one of my interviewees to define a teacher or educator, and then to define a leader. I guess I was encouraging them to find distinctions between the two. The answers I’ve summarised on the Venn diagram above. In case you can’t see it, it goes a little bit like this:

Teacher:

  • provide objectives
  • show, tell, review, assess
  • believe in abilities of others
  • imparts knowledge

Both:

  • coach (enable, guide, empower)
  • ask questions

Leader

  • influence and inspire others
  • provide vision and guidance
  • open to counter-arguments and challenges
  • aware that part of broader movement, bigger picture

 

A couple of warnings to go along with these: Tom Bewick rightly pointed out that lots of people have had bad experiences at school, so the concept of a teacher can be alienating. And Rashid Iqbal said, in no uncertain terms, “Once you call yourself a leader, that’s the end, say goodbye, it’s over. You are garlanded into ineffectiveness and praised into conformity.”

What strikes me, however, is that in my mind, and in my experience, a good teacher needs to be able to do and be all of the above, as does a good leader. We might associate some of these attributes or approaches with one over the other, but in fact leaders need to practise and develop all of these skills, as do teachers. This is particularly true in a world where, for both teachers and leaders, the moments to be directive or draconian are fewer and further between than they once were. Students should no longer be seen just vessels into which knowledge should be constantly poured, just as workers should no longer handled as mindless bots existing to achieve the task in hand.

For both teachers and leaders, this is a time to hone the attitudes of flexibility and openness, while exercising judgment as to when to deploy skills such as truth-telling and clear direction, or coaching and collaboration. It’s also a time to reflect, regularly, on our own approach and style, to review when it has worked, and when it hasn’t, and to consider what we need to do more of and notice when we need to change.

If we can nail that, then we can serve as great role-models to others. And if we can’t, then our honesty and transparency about how we are leading will enable us to serve as authentic role-models too.

Pedram Parasmand

Pedram has worked in the area of personal and professional development for over 5 years and previously taught in South East London. He creates environments that supports others become more self-aware and develop skills to lead fulfilled and meaningful lives. He is interested in approaches that look at the whole person—not just what they are doing, but who they are being. His work is inspired amongst other things by Authentic Leadership, behavioural science and mindfulness. He is currently training with CTI as a ‘co-active’​ coach.

He is a co-founder and Director of The Skills Lab, a start-up which aims to facilitates cultural change in organisations that allow people to develop the soft-skills needed to learn, work and lead happy lives. He has previously worked at Teach First where he designed and trained others to deliver workshops and programmes in areas of self-awareness, mindset, and leadership. He was also the Programme Director for the Governor Impact Programme.

He is a founding trustee of Spark+Mettle. He is also a school Governor at Spa Special school in Southwark where he chairs the Education Committee. He holds a Masters in Theoretical Physics from Imperial College London.

What was the first role you had in which you had to manage or support other people?

It was over ten years ago when I was a teacher. I supported people in departments informally, as well as all the students.

How did you learn to support other people?

Through trial and error. It wasn’t formal. I don’t even think I even thought about it too explicitly at the time either.

How has your style changed about supporting or managing other people in this last decade?

In the last decade, I’ve tried to become much less directive. It becomes a much more collaborative approach where people have the space to be able to make their own decisions, to grow within the role that they’re doing, and they also have ownership departments as well.

What were the problems about being directive?

It was just too much hard work. Honestly I didn’t feel like people had ownership of the things that they were doing. I would constantly be chasing up and checking that they’re doing something, making it much harder. Recently I’ve worked in a way that enables people to collaboratively come together and create this big project from scratch. Then we attribute who is doing what, we’re clear about what needs to be done by when and by whom.

That way it just keeps things moving without me getting involved too much, if that makes sense. It’s not that I’m taking a step back. It’s just I’ve got the overview; I’m not getting too involved in the detail. I’ve just set the scope and the boundaries and let people do whatever they want with it.

Are there any other techniques or approaches that you’ve taken up or discarded for supporting others?

I’m still experimenting now. When it comes to check ins with team members, sometimes it’s really up to them to talk about whatever they want to talk about whether it’s their role or their personal development. But some things end up slipping. So recently I’ve played around with the format, given it some structure by focusing on annual objectives and leaving space for conversation around them.

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 creates a space for creativity and much more collaboration. It also encourages risk taking and people pushing themselves a bit more. I never want to ever create that illusion or a sense that people think that I know it all. I might have this position of responsibility but I’m process facilitating this and everybody’s opinion is just as valid. But it takes a lot longer. Sometimes what I might see as a very simple fix to a problem might take a half hour chat with someone to find their own solution. But once you get to the other end you hope that the impact is that the learning has stuck a bit more and you don’t have to go through it again.

Is there a difference between how you help teams or groups of people and then how you work with individuals?

I see them both as the same thing in my context. It starts off as a team thing and then it devolves into individuals. I use a coaching approach. I say to the team, “What does success look like and what should the objectives and outcomes be?” However I have my own ideas and everything which I will chip in which makes me more of a process facilitator rather than a coach.

I’m not precious about my role. I don’t want other people to not feel like they’re growing if I’m working with them.

How do you go about setting expectations?

I have an open and transparent conversation at the beginning. I ask team members to answer four questions.

  • What does success look like?
  • What’s my role in it?
  • When does it need to be done by?
  • How much time do I need to spend on it?

Does your organisation have any approaches or processes for recognizing character strengths and soft skills?

We’ve got ten competency areas that we use to reflect on and it’s quite rigorous. Every grade has a description of what the expectations are for your personal and professional competencies. Then you report against those. It forms part of your appraisal rating. You get appraised at the end of the year by how well you’ve met your role objectives and how well you’ve met your professional competencies. Then based on that, you can see areas of strengths and weakness. The ones that are developmental areas form part of your professional development plan which I then try to refer back to in check-ins. But this is based on areas for improvement as opposed to improving the strengths people already have. I’ve actually been trying to work with strengths but it is complicated.

How would you define a teacher?

For me the old concept of the teacher is defunct. It’s different now. The attitude that “I have got this stuff in my head that you need to put in your heads” does not work anymore. No teacher can any longer proclaim to know it all. To me, a teacher is someone who facilitates the growth of other people’s knowledge and skills.

Is teaching or education an aspect of leadership?

I see the parallel in terms of what I think teachers should be and in terms of what I describe leaders to also be. In my role and in my team as a facilitator I’m aware that I don’t have all the current knowledge or perspectives that other people do. It’s about creating and holding the space where people to feel empowered to bring all of themselves to their work and have a sense of ownership over it, so they feel that they have a stake in it. For me, leading people is about being an enabler; and I’m still on a my own journey to learn how to best bring the best out of people for common good.

Dame Mary Marsh

Dame Mary Marsh is a non-executive director of HSBC Bank plc and a member of the Governing Body at London Business School.

She was the Founding Director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme from 2008 to 2015 and the Chief Executive of the charity National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) from 2000 to 2008.

Prior to this she was in education. . She started her career as a Geography teacher and later became Deputy Head of St Christopher School in Letchworth. From 1987-9 she completed an executive MBA at London Business School. She was appointed Headteacher of Queens’ School in Hertfordshire in 1990 and moved to be Head of Holland Park School, London in 1995.

In the 2007 New Year Honours she was awarded a DBE for “services to families and children”.

 

For how many years have you held leadership positions?

Certainly 25: there’s 10 years as a head, the last 15 years NSPCC and at Clore Social, but then I was a deputy head for 10 years before all that. So it could be 35. It was as small school and I was the only deputy head so I did all sorts of things while I was there. I had to run the junior school and the Montessori for a while after the head of the junior school left on short notice following some other changes of staff there. The head said, “You’re going to have to go and stabilize this.” I took on running it. I didn’t know anything about primary education at all. I learnt a lot actually. I think all secondary teachers should spend some time in primary schools and understand the fundamentals of learning.

In those early roles how did you learn to support other people that you were working with?

I’ve always had good relationships with the people I’ve worked with. That passion that I have for growing other people has driven me through the whole journey. I think that’s a big driver for me.

When you were deputy head and head, did you make up techniques or approaches of how to work and support others in the school?

I’ve always had a very open door, always been very accessible, always been around and about. I’ve always tried to give a narrative, give a direction from quite early on. When I look back at some of those moments when I’ve done that it’s always felt pretty brave. My techniques were values-based—even though I might not initially have expressed it that way, because it’s become clearer that that’s how you explicitly define it now.

Have there been any techniques or approaches particularly around managing or supporting others that you have tried and then not continued with? 

I think handling a demoralised teaching workforce at Holland Park was challenging, particularly as I was trying to do it in this inclusive way. There could have been another approach which would have been a bit more confrontational approach. I did try and avoid that, but it was fragile with many conflicting stakeholders too.

I think having the right people around you in your senior team is critical. I may have taken too long in getting to that sometimes because of my passion to work with people and give them a chance to develop. Maybe I could have been harder-edged about who’s there with me. Sometimes it’s been quite hard to disentangle and certainly the London schools of the ’80s and ’90s were challenging places.

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

I think it is important to get people out of their functional silos and to think holistically. If people are going to be ready to be in senior teams they’ve got to start having a wider view. To start with I would always make the line management of any subject area by the senior team in a school to be absolutely not their specialism. At NSPCC I did a lot to get people out of their functional silos and I’d get them to collaborate across boundaries. I did budget challenge meetings with the senior team (called the Leadership team) where every function presenting their annual budget would have a robust discussion with other members of the senior team. It meant giving a richer understanding to us all but also getting people to be interrogated from a different perspective. I think that’s a really healthy thing to do.

Do you believe that the same expectations should be applied to everyone whether they were part of the team, you yourself, or the people who you were working to support?

That’s essential. At St Christopher School in Letchworth, a key idea from the early leaders was that you should never expect more of children than you do of yourself. I think if you’re going to have expectations of other people, there’s just no integrity to it if you don’t hold yourself to the same.

I was just wondering through your work over the last 30 or more years what opportunities there have been for you to scaffold opportunities for growth and development, not actually amongst the beneficiaries or the students but amongst the teams that you’ve been working with or who’ve been working with you?

I think that this concept in relation to learning is absolutely key. Often I’ve described it as being a bit like a tree: until you’ve got the shape of the tree you can’t hang the leaves on it. I’ve always given people development opportunities. People have often said, “But you’ve given all these people that have had fantastic learning opportunities. Now they’re off and going to another job. Why have you done that?” My line always is that if you do develop people – and yes, they may well move on – that that will always attract the next lot of people you recruit to be all as strong or stronger because they’ll see coming and working with you and your team is a good place to be.

To what extent do you think that co-designing projects or programs is beneficial and what the limitations of that approach might be?

An interesting document to look at is the All Party Parliamentary Commission on Leadership and Management that was published last year. I was a commissioner on that. The final conclusions were that there were three things that were seen to be critical. They apply across all organizations – public, private and the social sector. The first one was clarity of purpose and sticking to it. The second one was people. The third one was potential, making sure that you were building for the longer term. I think that purpose, people and potential is a really good three-legged stool to build any organisation on. I think that in order to make the most of what’s available, you have got to start with the people you have. You’ve got to develop them. They’re going to develop best by learning from others as well as for themselves. But it takes time. You can’t do many shortcuts.

Have you had any processes for recognising character strengths or soft skills within any of your organisations or teams?

I like the things that Duckworth has in her view —zest, curiosity, optimism. One thing that I have always written into job specs is the ability to sustain good humour. I just do think it works across all approaches to life, the optimism and energy. This whole thing about lifelong learning, is learning all the time, so the curiosity that she mentions is absolutely key.

Are there any formal or informal ways that you recognise strengths and skills?

I think finding ways to thank people is really important. You can do a lot of it by just what you say. I think I’ve had aspirations to do the personal note thing to lots of people. I think the postcard is still quite a good way of saying thank you. But I probably should have done much more of it.

How would you define a teacher or educator?

A teacher is a brilliant educator. I don’t think they’re separate. I think we know a lot from cognitive psychology about learning and about motivation and about character building. We’ve known this for a long time but we’ve been very slow to communicate it. For example, the best context for learning is high challenge and low threat, but there are lots of people who are educationalists, and maybe even who have spent time actually directly teaching a lot of people who think fear is a very good weapon in getting people to learn. I think high expectations, ambition, aspiration are very different from fear.

How would you define a leader?

Leaders are coaches: the skill of a coach is enabling somebody to find their own way. Teaching is more than coaching when you’re actually teaching concepts and content understanding, but I think the way in which you do it very much can be strengthened by a coaching approach. That is what effective leaders are. They are also good at telling a narrative that makes sense to people, so they follow because they know where they’re going. They know why they’re going where they’re going. They know what you’re trying to get to. They understand some of the means of getting there because it’s all been articulated in a way that makes sense. And the good leader has the grit and determination too to see it through.

Do you think you would have been a different type of leader if you hadn’t taught first?

I don’t know really, because I didn’t train as teacher. I just went and taught as one could in those days. Then I did a diploma in education later, before I then did my MBA at London Business School. No, because I think there have just been lots of influences on me. I do think that the degree to which I’ve had cross sector exposure and engagement has been as significant as the fact that I did work as a teacher. I think that cross sector perspective is really important.

What’s always fascinated me is that when I used to meet as a head with chief executives of major FTSE 100 companies, fundamentally the issues that we were grappling with were the same because they were often about people. That’s what I do at the moment for HSBC. I have a particular interest for the Board about people, values and culture. I spend quite a bit of time are reviewing things with our regional head of HR and understanding what we’re doing about bringing the development of people consistently across the business, because obviously conduct, values, culture is a big, big issue. I’m applying the same things in my discussion at HSBC as I did with all of the Clore Social Leadership Fellows. It’s quite an interesting spectrum with more similarities than differences.

Tom Bewick

Tom Bewick has a professional background in education, skills and enterprise policy spanning two decades. He is owner and MD of a skills and management consultancy, New Work Training Ltd., which is dedicated to helping clients expand the number of apprenticeships. As a local councillor in Brighton & Hove, and chair of the local education authority, he is currently leading the city’s efforts to eliminate long-term youth unemployment.

He was an adviser to the Government, 1997-2004, on youth and adult education policy. He was co-founder and Chief executive of the creative and cultural industries skills council between 2004-2010; and co-founder and Chief executive of the International Skills Standards Organisation (INSSO) Ltd., 2010-2015, where he advised several multi-national corporations and overseas governments on global workforce development issues. He has written several influential publications and blogs at http://www.tombewick.com

Tom has been managing others for 15 years and has mainly taught himself how to lead people.

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

Hire the right people. Leave them alone to perform. Hold them to account when they don’t.

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 was more of a “control freak” when I first starting leading organisations. I soon realised however that the art of building high-trust, high-performing teams is to appropriately “let go”.

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

You have to be a coach, a social worker, lead by example, show authenticity at all times, but also constantly challenge staff to aspire and achieve more.

How do you set expectations?

Provide real clarity about “the what”; i.e. that vision of what success looks like. It means you then have to be less consumed by the detail, “the how”, which you should leave to your staff.

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?

Supporting teams, I find challenging groups to come up with co-produced solutions a good way of underpinning the right dynamic. For individuals you need to deploy a variety of techniques depending on their personality types. Some people like straight-talking; others want to feel they are being left alone. The trick is to balance these tensions in the interests of organisational cohesion.

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 my career has developed, I’ve understood more and more the need to celebrate the success of teams at every turn, perhaps by doing some unusual things. I once took my start-up team of 8 for a long-weekend to Barcelona because we’d just won a major contract. Another time my PA was having a bad day, and I could see she was struggling a bit. I told her to just cancel my diary and hers; and we took off to Lord’s for the day to watch cricket! I think these “off-plan” things are what can make all the difference to motivating both individuals and a team. Sometimes it helps to share in everyday human experiences to understand what is going on at work.

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?

By definition, I think, when you are putting a team together, you are constructing a scaffold. You look to hire people with a mix of skills and attributes. These differences in turn challenge new thinking and ways of doing things. The opportunity to cross-fertilise these experiences is what will often drive innovation. The challenge comes in ensuring the “creative chaos” of the scaffolding approach is working towards some shared problem-solving approach. Otherwise you get anarchy.

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 you can involve everyone in co-design up to a point. But equally, leaders have to know how to bring the right mix of people together with a specialised range of skills. For example, someone who doesn’t know how to write computer code or develop software would be lost in a discussion about the IT system architecture and wire frames. However, as a user of the software, they might have a unique user insight that challenges the way the developers go about their work. Apple are the best proponents of this approach. Users love the smart technology, but if the technology was clunky and lacked empathy with the user, people wouldn’t buy their products. Co-design and crowd-sourced solutions is a uniquely 21st century phenomenon thanks to the web.

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?

The danger with these systems is that character traits are not easily categorised in terms of their link to high performance and productivity. In my career, I’ve met a variety of character strengths in one work context that would be considered weak in another. For example, in the artistic context, indecision of a particular character can sometimes lead to a better decision being made because other characters in the team blend with the issue and eventually resolve it. But in some management roles indecision—and therefore a weak character—can be fatal.

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

The organisation is not separate from its people. If the people perform well the organisation will do well—simple as that. This concept is well understood in the sporting world. Look at the recent illegal emissions scandal of VW diesel cars. One rogue team has potentially the power to bring a whole corporation down because of its behaviour. The same happened during the financial crisis. I think CEOs who talk about the organisation as separate somehow from the people in it are deluding themselves.

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

Language has become a real dividing line in our understanding of how to motivate, develop and reward people in the workplace. The moment managers and leaders start talking about themselves as “teachers” or “educators” then there is the danger they will actually start to alienate their team. After all, many peoples’ experience of school (and therefore education and teaching) is not always a happy one. I prefer the idea of a coach, borrowed from the sporting world, because it recognises that it is individuals and teams that deliver results. The coach’s job is to create the right conditions in which to make the results happen. Clearly, creating those conditions will at times mean stepping into the “educator” type role. The key thing is to teach in an almost unconscious way.

How would you define a ‘leader’?

That’s the point really. I don’t think you can define a ‘leader’. History shows they come in all shapes and sizes; as well as leaders being a product of their time. Everybody lauds Churchill as a leader during WWII. Yet, he lost the 1945 election to a landslide. Clearly people’s perceptions of him as a leader had changed. Likewise, we tend to look at leadership in terms of ‘heroic leaders’, or the single entrepreneur toiling away in their sheds. Again, history shows us that the best forms of leadership often come from broad based social movements, where there is often no recognised leader or figurehead at all. For example, the cause of equality in gay marriage in the West took decades of social change—and multiple leaders—to achieve its aims.

Ruth Campbell

Ruth began her career as a community activist and gained experience in charities, Scottish Government and local government before founding Comas, a social innovation charity. Comas has pioneered work with people recovering from addiction to prevent relapse and recycling through treatment in the award winning Serenity Café project.

Ruth has steered Comas through a period of growth in which several areas of development became national resources and the charity set new goals for working on tackling poverty, with a challenging, goal oriented approach to making every household in one community better off. Ruth has used her different career experiences for her own learning, watching those around her, and attending some training.

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

It depends on the context. In challenging situations where a command and control style is required I can do this. In learning situations I can be a coach and guide. In either situation I aim to inspire people to do their best and motivate people by demonstrating my own energy and commitment.

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?

Really it is the context and the people that has informed the style. The demands of a social enterprise requiring daily operational development and management over 7 days is very different from the style required in the civil service or local authority. People’s motivation and expectation of their leaders is different in different settings. In our organisation we also lead the community, many of whom are vulnerable and have difficult responses to some aspects of leadership. The critical point is, the style has to bend to the situation and the people being led, all the time. Anyone who has a fixed style wouldn’t achieve much.

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

The ultimate purpose is that we are all tools to achieve a social impact and make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people. The support to staff is to enable them to do that to the best of their ability and within the resources available. But support also serves to glue the team together, enhance our enjoyment of our challenge, build our ethos and energise us all – we aim to support people in immensely difficult life situations, so to an extent we also have to model that support with each other in our team, and to that end one of the purposes of support is to create reciprocity – I need their support too!

How do you set expectations?

Highly

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?

Straightforward and bullshit-free. Add fun and humour with groups. Add cuddles for individuals.

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’d add some deadlines and meetings. It’s not the fact of them that’s the problem, it’s how you do them.

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?

In our organisation the scaffolding hits you on the head and because things are so dynamic, it never goes away. Even people who have been here for years are always learning something new. We don’t really do comfort zones, but if you have mastered something you will be left to get on with that autonomously.

We have a high degree of conscious learning in our organisation: we are an innovation organisation, so we are always learning as we go; we work with people in early recovery whose brains are still adjusting to sobriety, so we are always adjusting to ‘wonky learners’ and many of our staff are in recovery – we have to create a lot of frameworks to assist learning; we have an internship programme and are conscious of the cognitive overload that comes with being thrust into a new environment. All in all, we make learning, ideas sharing and feedback very up front, direct (rather than subtle) and, because it is all around us all the time, compulsory. People who get that we are all learning all the time and find this stimulating, love it. People who don’t really want to learn, hate it and don’t last long.

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?

We are community development workers so we have Freire in our DNA. However, I would say that this style suits people who want this. Some people – for example staff and volunteers in the cafe enterprise, have over-taxed cognitive bandwidth because of all the other life stuff they are coping with. They do want to be told what to do and have the comfort of defined roles and tasks.

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 really like this theory and I think there is a lot to work with in it. It is particularly relevant for our community members as well as our team. However, in as much as character can be developed, it can also be warped by situations, circumstances and faulty brain wiring/chemistry and the labile nature of character is the interesting thing. Essentially, people are fascinating and if we are very lucky we can create an environment where this fascination is in constant circulation. Because we deal with personal development for the individuals in our communities we can indulge this fascination all the time and it naturally expresses itself in our dialogue with the community and with each other as we try to create self-knowledge.

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

The knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘huge’, but I also think that people with a lucky bundle of strong character, vision and skill can transcend fragmented and dysfunctional teams to have an impact – think of local authorities and the occasional individual you meet who refuses to be held back by the system and does great things anyway. A well supported team would always be the ideal, but not having it doesn’t always mean there will be less impact. In fact, I have come across supported and supportive teams who stay so far within their comfort zone they cease to have impact or adapt to their environment; and also come across teams that focus so much on support for each other this has become their purpose—demands from external forces to evidence a wider impact are treated as a threat.

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

Teacher: provide the objective, show, tell, review and assess; Educator: facilitate goal setting, enable, empower and make wisdom and experience accessible on demand.

How would you define a ‘leader’?

Someone people love to collaborate with, emulate, follow, argue with and challenge. Someone who stirs energy, thinking, passion and mission.