Dialling Up the Mix: Perfecting the Leadership Skills

Jonathan Whymark, Occupational Psychologist at Saxton Bampfylde, explores the complex balance leaders must strike to find a sustainable way forward for their organisation, delivering strong leadership to both their staff and service users.

The last two years have been incredibly challenging for most organisations, but none more so than for those operating in the not-for-profit sector. Organisations have had to adapt quickly to continue providing essential services and support as need has continued to accelerate. Across the board, leaders have worked tirelessly just to ensure their organisations are in a shape fit for the future, driven by a need to minimise impact to those they exist to help and support.

Over the duration of the pandemic, leaders have been challenged to the very limits of their capacity and have been forced to draw on previously untapped reserves.
There are several useful models of leadership that help to capture the essential behaviours associated with a high performing leader. The language may differ from one model to another, but the behaviours and qualities they capture are largely the same.

To be an effective leader, one needs to be able to demonstrate the following broad behaviours:

Effective thinker and decision-maker

  • An efficient information gatherer who keeps up to date with developments that impact on their organisation.
  • Gathers information from a variety of sources, casting their net widely and enabling enable others to do likewise.
  • Uses that information as the basis for informed decision-making.
  • Demonstrates conceptual agility or the ability to review multiple viable options before reaching a conclusion.

Involved and engaged

  • Establishes a culture of openness, collaboration, and honesty linked to an expectation for mutual respect.
  • Ensures people feel valued for expressing ideas and concerns.
  • Actively promotes development, engaging with the workforce and fuelling organisational growth.
  • Encourages cross-organisational collaborating, ideas sharing and interaction.

Inspiring and influential

  • The public face of their organisation, leaders must inspire and influence staff and volunteers as well as external stakeholders, donors, and the media.
  • Engenders confidence both in their own abilities and in those around them.
  • Possesses the ability to communicate with a wide audience in a style that is relevant, informative, clear and honest.

Process-driven and outcome-focused

  • Balances people-centric skills with the ability to get the job done.
  • Enables objective delivery by identifying and removing barriers.
  • Sets clear expectations that contribute to the overarching strategy of the organisation.
  • Establishes systems and processes to support this, including planning for future-proofing.

 

Balancing the dials: getting the mix right

One way of visualising these behaviours is to think of a music producer’s mixing desk: each behaviour is represented by one of the many dials. Depending on the situation, some dials will need to be turned down, whilst others may need turning up. If a leader is fixed in their views about how to lead, the organisation risks stagnating and becoming immobile and unable to react quickly to changes.

The ability of leaders to make quick and clear decisions and to bring those around them along on that journey are crucial factors in whether an organisation thrives or just survives. To use another metaphor, if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem tends to look like a nail. The key is flexibility. Flexibility in how a leader adapts their behaviours, flexibility in how they help teams to develop, and flexibility in terms of how they engage with people. Rigid, mistrusting, directive styles of leadership are inclined to create problems in the new hybrid working environments.

Leaders who would score highly for conceptual agility, openness, honesty and enabling action are inclined to adapt relatively easily to new and diverse models of working and the ever-changing nature of the space in which they operate. For example, the adoption of more flexible ways of working brings challenges for leaders. Aside from the logistical issues, a movement away from a traditional command and control working environment is challenging for many.

The leaders who will succeed will be those who balance their passion for the organisation’s aims and objectives with a genuine concern for those they work with. They will create an air of confidence, positivity and engagement that permeates through the organisational culture. They will embrace change as a permanent feature and will role-model openness, trust, humility, and transparency as well as a firm commitment to embracing diversity in all its forms.

 

For leaders to enhance their chances of success in the future, there are three key steps to follow:

Know yourself:

Reflect honestly on your strengths and weaknesses and invite feedback on what is successful and where improvements could be made.

Encourage reflection across senior teams:

Understand how your skills as a leadership team complement one another. Identify and potential gaps in skills or behaviours.

Model and communicate best practice behaviours:

clearly set expectations and use to inform development initiatives such as individual coaching, team development and leadership development.

 


If you are interested to hear more about how we can work in partnership with you and your organisation, please get in touch with Jonathan Whymark in our Leadership Services team.


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