How to be a good leader

Janine S White discusses leadership

It is easy to find information on the internet, in books, and through training that tell you how to be a good leader but how often have the authors asked the employees, the volunteers or group what their thoughts are of the leadership and management provided?

360-degree appraisals have become popular usage within the voluntary sector, but they have yet to take centre stage with small businesses and private sector employees. What about the directors who have not stepped foot on the front line for years, if ever?

Having been a volunteer, an employee and a leader for both staff and volunteers, I will give you the insight into what a good leader really looks like, who I have felt that it is worth going into work each day for.

I will also tell you that I have turned down jobs and volunteer placements because of my dislike of the leadership style, because I have not had faith in my employer to provide the right support or to understand the role themselves. In this same way, I would expect people to walk away from me if my leadership was not up to scratch.

The problem with 360-degree appraisals within the private sector is that there is a fear of standing up to the boss. The person who decides whether you have a job the next day. Can you imagine walking into work and telling your manager that you do not like their style? I know for me this is a cause of anxiety, whether it is for an appraisal or in general, the anxiety would remain.

So what needs to be remembered?

When it comes to running a business, to creating something, partnership should never be taken for granted. Everyone is looking for their next step, their next opportunity, their next promotion.

Loyalty is not a moral that many people have in a fast-paced world. Loyalty must be gained.

I have been extremely lucky in my voluntary and employed career to have some amazing leaders. Within a year of starting my career I was employed in my, at the time, dream job and being offered the opportunity to progress to leadership levels. From being a volunteer one day a week in one organisation I was running a different service of 40+ volunteers, writing training packages which were endorsed by well-known services, and heading upwards. Within two years I was running three services within one organisation. Recruiting, training and supervising volunteers and staff. This is not an easy task and I wish that I had the knowledge imparted on me that I hope to give you now.

In my next role I started out as a volunteer coordinator for a start-up service within a large organisation. I created and implemented the service specific training as well as the mandatory training for a very high-profile and established organisation. Again recruiting, training and retaining volunteers.

When coordinating volunteers, it must always be remembered that these are not people who come into work to get paid, who need to come in to keep a house over their head. Volunteers are people who have a passion for something, have full time jobs or education and add this to their diary through the goodness of their hearts. If they feel unmotivated, unneeded or a burden they will walk.

From this I took a sidestep into direct work with families and children so that I could keep my feet on the ground and be fully aware of the organisations service users. Again, within no time at all I was an equality and diversity champion and involved in the policies and guidelines that covered over 500 staff and at least two thousand volunteers. I would have stayed in this role happily for the rest of my life because I had an amazing team leader and services manager. Unfortunately, as is the nature of non-profit organisations someone offered to do the work at a better cost. I was moved with the service under the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations to the new organisation but within two meetings to meet the potentially new manager, I walked away.

I would love to say that it was my amazing skills that allowed me to progress so quickly wherever I worked. I would love to say that I was so amazing at my jobs that no one could have done a better job but that is not true. I mean come on, talk about an ego boost to write about how wonderful I am. I was amazing at retaining volunteers and I did progress in all roles because the people who led me were amazing.

So what did they do that was so right? What did I learn from them that I took on and taught my volunteers? Let me try to explain it to you.

Good leaders:

· know the work of the service. They have been there, done that and understand what it involves. They know the subject and they can explain it to others clearly. They comprehend the difficulties and the barriers as well as the daily stresses.

· Recognise that everyone needs to be given the opportunity to use their skills. They know that if someone begins to get bored, they will look for something else. People thrive on building their strengths and a good leader recognises this and fosters them.

· Are not afraid of someone becoming better than them and stealing their job. The whole idea of training people is that you are sharing your skills and experience. I was once told that to be a frontline worker means that you can help ten plus people at a time but to teach ten frontline workers, you can help a hundred people at once.

· Do not tell people that they are not good enough. If someone is consistently set up to fail, self-esteem will fall and the motivation will drain away.

· Give people the opportunity to be involved in the service, what can be improved, what can be changed. These are the people that are experiencing your business, organisation or project every day. They are the ones who are having face to face contact with your clients. They know what needs to be done, trust them to prove it.

· Bring people together as a team. Turning people against each other, office cultures, us and them mentalities will simply not work. The team will become fragmented and one will feel alone. If there is no feeling of closeness, or common goals then one will walk.

· Are consistent, prepared to get feedback and prepared to consider alternative views.

· Are prepared to hear criticism in the same way as it is given. As the saying goes… do unto others….

· Know that they are not the best.

In an ever-changing world where merit is given to differing things dependent on the times, even an expert can become an amateur. We can learn from employees and volunteers as much as they can learn from us. The day that you begin to look down at people, is the day you lose respect and half of your workforce.

Janine thrives on bringing into awareness the inequalities and misconceptions of society. Janine hopes of a more tolerant and understanding future for the world

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