Posted on Tuesday 19 June 2012 by Ulster Business


Leadership, and especially the type of leadership required during periods of significant and sustained change, doesn’t come in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ package.

Each one of us will develop our own unique set of tools and techniques. This is what I like to call our personal portfolio, or armoury, of skills and resources. It’s a repertoire of responses, approaches and tactics which we call upon to fix a clear and ultimate goal and which we use to set the ship on course and to steer it through troubled waters, while all the time ensuring that our passengers don’t disembark at the next available port!

There is no question that we have entered a period of sustained change, a paradigm shift that will last for many more years to come. But change is inevitable across all areas of life. This is a truth we know in our minds but tend to resist in our hearts. It happens all around us, all the time, yet as individuals and often times as businesses, we long for the predictable, the consistent, and the constant.

Leadership, however, involves embracing change, taking control, gathering the support you need and inspiring others to join you.

So what comes first? When faced with a situation which requires fundamental and far-reaching change, I find that the most important first step is one of “geography”. By this I mean locating yourself and the organisation. Shine a light into the dark and murky water and uncover the evidence, the hard facts and figures which will demonstrate where you are and help inform where you want to be. In the early stages of change management it is, as with any journey, first a question of navigation – where are we now, where do we want to go and how do we get there?

The getting there part will depend on bringing your people with you and that’s where the art of storytelling comes in. Storytelling in this sense is about cohesive and compelling communication. You need to depict the journey of moving from the past into the future in a way which will engage and inspire people, and to do this you need to connect with their hearts as well as their heads.

Of course this doesn’t mean that your story has to be hopelessly optimistic (or, worse still, relentlessly down-beat) but it should follow the four key rules of great communication: it must empathise, engage, educate and enlist. Above all, it must be honest and authentic.

Now that you have located yourself and your organisation and you have a story to go with the journey, the next thing you need is a road map. A detailed plan with clear measures, targets and feedback loops – one which lays out the path, sets targets, measures progress and is flexible enough to endure the inevitable setbacks without threatening the overall goal.

Of course, the road map must also include mechanisms for celebration, for recognising and acknowledging success and for praising progress. When people are inspired you give them energy to act. You can’t lead if no-one is prepared to follow and this sense of collective action or ‘collective ambition’ as we refer to it in Belfast Met, is critical.

My job as Principal and Chief Executive is, ultimately, to steer Belfast Met in its journey towards excellence. Founded in 1906, our college has a proud heritage and a rich tradition in innovation and excellence. This tradition, this journey, continues today. We have ambitious plans and a razor-sharp clarity about our role in enhancing the employability and work readiness of our learners, in re-emerging as a key driver for innovation and growth in the greater Belfast economy and beyond, and in convincing young people that they have a future and a valuable and significant role to play.

Great leadership is something we can all aspire to. The bold challenge, often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, to be the change that you want to see in the world, can be a starting point for many of us. Irrespective of context, we can all commit to leading the change we want to see, gathering the support we need and inspiring others to join us.

With tools like honesty, empathy, creativity, courage and a focus that translates into bold and decisive action, more and more of us can hone our leadership skills and really step up to the challenge. A sense of humour – and dare I say it, even a rather well-developed sense of fun – are, quite clearly, essential requirements.


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