Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Leadership, change and donuts

Today I went to one of our Sheffield Leader cohorts, to talk to them about change management and leadership. Instead of a formal presentation, it took the form of an hours conversation - a question and answer session. An excellent group, some interesting and challenging questions, and the time seemed to fly by.

First question was  - what do I do? Always an interesting one. Lead the department, keep the vision, act as an ambassador, network, be the PR person, negotiate and influence, work with colleagues on strategy, monitor the internal and external environment, promote the CiCS culture, go to lots of meetings.....

Another one was how did CiCS come into existence, which made me think back to late 1995 when the then Registrar asked me to pull all of the IT in admin departments (as they were then, now we're Professional Services) together. The Department of Corporate Information was formed, which was a very short lived department lasting only months, until it was agreed that it would merge with Academic Computing Services, and to get a name that embraced both, Corporate Information and Computing Services was born. We've had a number of changes since, gaining telephony, Corporate Services, (AV, Print and Design, Timetabling and Performance Space) and Learning Technologists. Combined with my experience of bring the North Trent College of Nursing and Midwifery into the Medical Faculty in 1994, I've had to manage a lot of organisational change :-)

Most of the other questions were about leadership, managing change, what had I learned, what techniques did I use, what was my style, etc. Some of my answers below, but I should point out that I'm not saying these are right, or that I stick to them all the time, but I do my best:
  • Recognise that not everyone thinks like you. Other people are not put on this earth just to annoy you. I love change and positively thrive on it. Some people don’t. Instead of seeing change as an opportunity, they will see it as a threat. You need to understand them, and find out what is their fear.
  • Talk to people, but more importantly listen. Go to see people in their place of work, not your office. 
  • Gain trust. Be as open and honest as you can be, but more importantly, be credible. Say when you don’t know what to do, or have to change your mind, and admit to mistakes.
  • Take risks, use your instinct. This isn't right for everyone, but in general I think we're too risk averse.
  • Listen to different points of view - let  colleagues question your assumptions until a decision is made - then you all have to stick to it. Be firm, If you’ve made a decision, stick to it, see it through, but explain why.
  • Accept people won't like what you're doing all the time. I joke that I have a broomstick and pointy hat in my cupboard for when I turn into a wicked witch.  If you have their trust and respect it shouldn't necessarily stop them liking you.
  • You can always tell a good leader because people are following them, but that's no good if you don't know where you’re going. You need a very clear vision, know what you’re aiming for
  • Communicate. Obvious, but not always done, and not always done to good effect.
  • Language is very important - you have to use a language everyone understands, and that language is different for different audiences.
  • Consider that feedback is a gift - don't be defensive, thank people for it. 
  • Learn from mistakes. Investigate what went wrong and learn but don’t blame. 
  • Coach staff so that you don't solve their problems but get them to a stage where they can solve their own problems. People often come to my door saying, we have a problem, what shall I do?. I always say, what do you think we should do? Nine times out of ten they tell me, and they're right.
  •  Never make permanent enemies. Get on with people, especially people who matter and can get things done for you. Porters have always been people I try and get to know. Give favours freely. You never know when you might need them. 
  • Listen. Know what's going on, walk the floor - a good leader likes gossip 
  • Share credit for success but shoulder the blame for your staff,
  • Be aware of your own weaknesses so that you can compensate and form a team with people who are complimentary to you. I am not a detail person - detail turns me right off. I'm also not a doer or completer. So, I have to have people around me who can see detail, and get on and do things. See if you can guess who they are :-)
  • Use the Tinkerbelle principle -  if you can get enough people to believe in something, it will happen. Never say if, say when. Used very successfully to get the Information Commons built!
  • Finally, maintain a sense of humour at all times, and a sense of perspective. Always ask your self, what's the worst that could happen?

The very last question was about motivation - how do I motivate staff especially when things are going wrong? Obvious answer - coffee and donuts.

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