Rob Whiteman explains how you can take small steps to develop the
skills you need to become leadership material.
There are significant challenges facing the public sector in the years to come. Meeting these challenges head on requires us to ensure that the aspiring leaders of tomorrow have the skills they need to tackle anything that may arise.
Even though tomorrow may look grim, focusing on leadership skills for students and employees is a necessary step to making sure that organisations will flourish in the future regardless of the current uncertainty.
Not everyone is born with the skills or confidence to be a natural leader. In fact, when I was beginning my career becoming a chief executive was the farthest thing from my mind. But don’t fret, I know first-hand that leaders can be created and developed through training and practice.
Some people seem to adopt a leadership role very naturally, whether in the work environment or in social situations. We can all learn from watching these people, but it’s important to remember that styles of leadership vary and that an individual can adopt different leadership styles depending on the context and their own personality.
Where a decision has to be made that needs buy-in and input from an entire team, then a consultative approach is appropriate. However, if there’s a fire in the room, you want someone to take control and tell everyone to get out. Very different styles, but both are forms of leadership.
Learning about leadership begins with watching those around you. Observing others in leadership roles is one of the best ways to find out what leadership styles can be used. Think of your line manager at work. What kind of style do they use? Do they involve everyone in decision making, or only certain people?
How does it make you feel if you are not one of those people? How does it make you feel if you are? Thinking about this means you are considering the impact of the leader on the individual, which is something to bear in mind when you are in a leadership role. Leadership is not only about tasks and outcomes, but about people.
If you have the ability to do so, start by shadowing leaders in your organisation. Students will benefit from shadowing their Executive Director or CEO for a day. It gives an insight into the different tasks and requirements of the role and how leadership can vary from task to task, or meeting to meeting. Ask if this is something that could be offered – even during the current time when we are working remotely. Being present during online meetings can still provide good insight into how different leaders in your organisation operate.
Can you ask to be given some experience in leading a small project? The opportunity to develop your own leadership skills will help you work out what you find easy and what you find more challenging. Ask for feedback on your performance and be prepared to hear both positive and negative comments. Every good leader needs people to give honest feedback and a great leader will listen to it and act on it.
Think of what you can do outside of work – are there committees you can join where you can develop some leadership skills? Even the smallest of groups can offer experience that will stand you in good stead for the future.
You can also learn leadership theories from textbooks. There are countless resources available online to help you learn the theory. It’s putting the theory into practice and being willing to respond and change your approach that truly helps you develop your leadership skills. Learn from others and then, when you are an experienced and respected leader, others can learn from you.
The road ahead looks rocky and full of uncertainty, but one thing that we do know is that today’s students will become tomorrow’s leaders. Taking control of your leadership training will help you take on any challenge that comes your way – to the benefit of not only your organisations, but the public sector and the wider country.
• Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO