Leading from the front

In these challenging times the art of leadership is increasingly under the microscope. But what makes a good leader and how do we develop our leaders of the future? These are just some of the questions we posed to our expert panel, brought together with Boost Business Lancashire at Ribby Hall Village.

Laura Leyland – Fresh Perspective

It is important for leaders to have humility, empathy and compassion, as well as an understanding of all the different needs of the individuals you have the privilege to lead.

How I’ve developed as a leader has been based on how I have been led in the past.

My inspiration has come from other people, including those that have made me feel bad and not wanting to do it that way. But also those around me every day; family and the people I’ve employed.

There are also those I’ve met from being in business and networking, listening to how other people do things and the challenges they’ve overcome and the successes that they’ve had and why.

We’ve developed quite a few leaders, even though we have a small team. We’re home-growing our own leaders as we grow the business.

PRESENT:

Richard Slater - Lancashire Business View (chair)
Jaydee Davis - Community and Business Partners
Richard Few - Sales Geek
Graham Haworth - Boost mentor
Teresa Jennings - N-compass
Andrew Leeming - Boost Business Lancashire
Laura Leyland - Fresh Perspective
Gabrielle McNamara - Leonard Dews
Helen McVey - Pendleside Hospice
Chris Smith - Pendle Engineering
Paul White - Wise Owl Creative

The main thing has been giving them the self-confidence, making them believe in themselves and have selfworth, understand their own value and their skills and cultivating that, bringing that to the front in a safe space. We don’t judge and we talk about failure a lot; that it’s OK to make mistakes.

Graham Haworth – Boost mentor

People are the biggest game changer. If people are not in the right mind set, not in the right place, then forget it because you won’t get that service your customer needs. That’s the critical bit for any business.

Look at businesses like Timpson, it is run on a culture of kindness, its staff are awesome and it has fabulous profitability. I’ve seen this culture of kindness in action in a lot of companies.

It doesn’t mean being soft, you still have those really strong conversations. You can move things, can move mountains. It is incredible.

When it comes to creating leaders and leadership skills you have to create a safe and supportive environment. People have to be able to try things. If it doesn’t work, learn from it. It is continuous learning.

Jaydee Davis – Community and Business Partners

There is a need to inspire teams and lead them towards a goal but a lot of the time people aren’t sure what that goal is. They are working really hard, know that they want to grow the business but they are not really sure what that means.

A lot of people start a business because they are good at something. They’ve got busier and recruited people and suddenly they have to understand how to be a good leader, how to take that team forward while still running the business. There is a benefit to having a mentor, because as a leader or manager you can’t always speak to your team about your concerns.

You can get things off your chest, talk openly and honestly and your mentor is not judging you. It can relieve a little bit of pressure.

I’m inspired every day. It’s not even the businesses that are doing amazingly well, it’s the ones that are struggling and striving and aspiring to do better, or the mentors that have led incredible businesses but have had their own failures and have learnt from them and are helping others.

Chris Smith – Pendle Engineering

As a non-engineer running an engineering business you are either going to spend your life faking it, or you accept it and become an authentic leader.

One of the lines I try and live by is ‘stubborn on the vision, flexible on the detail’. I’m not going to start with the detail because I am far from qualified. But I have 80-odd people who are qualified. They all need someone to lead the vision.

If you have a blank piece of paper and say, ‘Right, this is the challenge we all face and we all have an interest and a stake in that challenge, let’s work on it together’, that tends to yield by far the best results for us.

It’s hard to be a leader but it is also hard to define a leader. In the context of your own business you have to define what you think a good leader is and you have to define what the business requires.

You can get inspiration from everywhere and anywhere and it is more likely when you least expect it. It is about having an open mind and being reflective isimportant. It is a strong and powerful tool.

Gabrielle McNamara – Leonard Dews

The first thing I did when I became general manager was bring the team in and ask where they thought we were.

It was also about finding out what people were interested in, what they were passionate about and developing that. I was finding that people were unhappy because they weren’t challenged.

You have to make sure that people are heard, that they are told their ideas are good and that you are actually going to use them. You have to show that there is something happening.

We have people who are so obviously made for management or for leadership. There are people who shine in different areas and also there are people who just want to come in every day and get on with what they’re doing.

They don’t want to be a leader or manager and you have to pay as much attention to them as you do to people who do want to progress.

Teresa Jennings – N-compass

Top of my list when it comes to leadership is ‘being authentic’. As you go through your career you have role models and you try and take the best bits from each of them. But it is about translating that in a way that means you are yourself, you are not trying to be someone else.

Then there is purpose. There’s organisational purpose, which you have got to be passionate about, but also personal purpose. I want N-compass to be a great place to work and that is my personal mission.

We get a lot of feedback from staff, stakeholders and service users and we are always looking at how we can build on what it is telling us. As a leader you must demonstrate you’re doing something about it. People will stop telling you things if you don’t act.

Not everyone wants to be a leader and we need to recognise that. My role in trying to grow leaders is about creating the right environment with reward and recognition. We bring our leadership team together on a quarterly basis and have different types of conversations.

It is also about taking notice of people and what they do. It is the note to someone to say, ‘I saw you did this last week and I thought it was fantastic’.

Helen McVey – Pendleside Hospice

In the charitable sector you have to lead in a collaborative and non-assuming way if you are going to achieve.

There are too many assumptions made about leaders; that something should be done one way. Actually as a leader you don’t always know how it should be done.

Leadership doesn’t happen at one level, it happens at all levels throughout the organisation. There are leaders in every role in the organisation and it is how you bring that out of your team.

I want people to tell me what they want and to react to that. So I went in on the ground floor, working alongside people, really understanding what they did, where they wanted us to go and what their challenges were. From that you can start to create a vision for the future.

You need to think about the people who can drive your organisation forward by really taking their skills and enabling them to do that. Too often leaders are telling people how to do things.

You see the leaders in other organisations, you go and talk to them and you learn from them. You also learn from your own successes and failures. If you succeed at something you want to succeed at something else, equally if you fail it gives you your inspiration to do better.

Paul White – Wise Owl Creative

The main attribute leaders need is the ability to inspire. It is also really important to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses and that is something I did fairly early on.

I am not a particular good manager but I am a good leader. So for me it is hiring the right people, those who are better than me in areas that I am weakest at.

It is really important when you do get something wrong to make that clear to your team. If you are honest about that, people will have faith in you.

My time as leader of Pendle Council made me realise that being in the public eye is not what leadership is about. It is about the team and leading the team.

You don’t have to lead alone; you are surrounded by people who you can ask for advice. Pick through that advice and work out which you should take. I have a business partner and I much prefer leading with someone else, I would hate to lead alone now.

Andrew Leeming – Boost Business Lancashire

For me, leadership is about inspiration. It’s not about management and there’s a clear distinction between that and leadership. The people who impress me are the ones who inspire and make me want to be better and that’s the key.

The stereotype of leadership is one of arrogance, of self-belief, which is OK to a certain degree, but the problem is when it tips into over-confidence and, ‘It’s my way or the highway’.

We think leaders have to lead from the front. Good leaders can also lead from back and actually good leadership is about saying, ‘You’re absolutely amazing at that, crack on and do it and we’ll celebrate that and we’ll shine a light on your absolutely amazing practice’.

I want my leaders to inspire me and I want everything we talk about in terms of leadership to be inspirational. I want everyone to be reaching for that perfect leadership goal, although I will also say not everyone is a leader.

We need to shine a bigger light on what good leadership looks like. True leadership is about authenticity as well, it’s about living who you are. Network with people who inspire you, those you want to be like, that you can learn from.

If you’re serious about your leadership and want to be the best that you can be, you need to make sure you are creating those moments to actually go around and see what other people are doing.

Richard Few – Sales Geek

There are so many different types of leaders. There isn’t a set way and everyone is different, with different strengths and weaknesses.

It is not a job title, it is a role and you need to create the space and environment for people to naturally fulfil that role.

You have to have the right values in your business. It is about stepping up and doing the right thing, setting the example.

Leading a business can be a lonely place sometimes. I’ve managed a lot and led a lot of people in previous jobs but nothing keeps me awake at night more than the responsibility of the families of people that we employ in our business now and being able to pay them - and the consequences of getting it wrong.

Mentoring is massive. Sometimes what you need, alongside improving and constantly trying to get better and figure out where you’re weak, is actually being told that you’re alright sometimes.

Having that mentor who sometimes just puts their arm on your shoulder and says, ‘You’re actually doing alright, mate,’ certainly helps from a mental health perspective as much as anything else.

Not everyone is leader but everyone at some point will demonstrate leadership and that can be anyone, anywhere: children, parents or people in jobs in companies that aren’t technically leaders. You will see examples of it every day and I just love walking round and observing it.

  • Images by Nick Dagger
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