10 leadership learnings from 2020

10 leadership learnings from 2020

December 2, 2020 7:20 am Published by Leave your thoughts

When I stepped up to be deputy president back in November 2018, 2020 seemed like a long way off. Fast forward to today and as we near the end of what’s been a monumental year it goes without saying that leading JCI Manchester in 2020 has been a rollercoaster. 

Putting the pandemic aside I stepped up to the role of being president to have the opportunity to learn. The ethos of JCI is learning by doing and with a global mission to provide development opportunities that empower young people to create positive change! I’d like to think I’ve lived up to this. So I’ve shortlisted my 10 top leadership learnings into a short blog which has also been turned into a vlog if you’re more of a watcher than a reader. 

1 & 2- Vision and goals 

It seems pretty obvious but having clarity on your purpose, the why and how it all fits together in the form of a vision is pretty obvious. Though it’s only when you’re faced with rapid change that a vision can help to anchor you when your plans go out of the window.

The vision I’d proposed for JCI Manchester this year was the following: 

“To be a diverse, engaged and empowered internationally connected network that provides development opportunities to young professionals” 

I have referred back to this many times especially when shaping our response to the Black Lives Matter protests and global rallies of support and engagement on fighting for racial equality. 

Goals are a tough one, as with this year a lot of our plans went out of the window very quickly.  Though when I say goals it also evokes deadlines in order to achieve something. As a leader setting clear expectations of when things need to be delivered sets a tone to keeping up momentum with achieving your desired goals. It takes determination and not worrying that you’re being bossy. Sometimes you need to be direct and it’s about getting comfortable with straight talking. Which surprisingly this is something I have struggled with at times as I like to be a people pleaser! 

Goals also means understanding people’s personal and professional goals. This was also something I wanted to focus on at the very start of the year. Taking on board a practical training technique I experienced at JCI’s european leadership academy was writing down your mid year goal. Knowing it would be posted to you creates a sense of personal accountability. I did the same exercise with the Manchester team, keeping their goals and sending them back this summer. Remembering a commitment you made to your own personal development can be a powerful way to keep you honest with yourself.

3 & 4 – Agility and flexibility 

Given my day job is working within a fast moving digital product team being agile seems a rather obvious one. Though when it’s you in the leadership hot seat it’s recognising you need to constantly weave between being reactive and proactive. This year has been a true testament to that, how can you still try to deliver on your goal while throwing out your well laid plans, or look to pivot what was a physical event into an online programme. 

It’s also deciding what you want to react to as there’s so much change going on right now you can’t be constantly reactive. Leaving some time to get ahead in some areas will pay dividends. For example as we always have our AGM in December meant I could plan ahead for  the end of year call out for new board members , this meant thinking about how we promote the roles and creating content was always going to be a given. 

When I’ve thought about flexibility for me this has meant about also knowing when you need to ask for help and support. It’s learning to flex in and out of what you’re working on and knowing that you don’t have all the answers or the best approach. Flexibility in thinking is something I’ve definitely found myself having to actively work on so you don’t just jump to one way of doing something. Having someone you can bounce ideas off and bring some different thinking is also important to challenge yourself. I’ve had a few go to people that I can always ping an idea or approach to and just sense check it, think about who you surround yourself with and if they help you challenge your thinking and help you flex your approach.

5 & 6 – Empowerment and empathy 

Two big business buzzwords I know! But when we get down to what is the true essence of leadership. How you empower those around you, while being empathetic and being comfortable with vulnerability is where you separate out what it truly means to be a great leader and I know there’s some more growing for me to do here.

Delegation is wrapped up with empowerment for me as when you lead a team of volunteers its about how you strike the balance of not doing all the work and yet not wanting to let go, while at the same time giving others around you a chance to develop. This to me is the epitome of what it means to be a JCI member, giving others around you a chance to get involved and share their experience, passion or enthusiasm for something. 

For example we had a member suggest the ideas of start-up stories and after I brokered the initial contact with Federation to host the sessions Josh has taken an interest and stepped up to run these events. A similar situation occurred with Danielle who wanted to run a resilience workshop for young professionals affected by furlough and redundancy. 

A final tip on empowerment that I heard early on in my leadership journey from our Europe VP Jenni was that when you need something from others ask for this at the start of the day, or well ahead of time. It stuck with me and again is something we can always work at on how we can empower others by being honest in how we can help and support each other. 

Building empathy, I think I rely on my intuition a lot but know I can always work on my listening skills as I’m a chatterbox and actively listening is a key step to being able to show empathy. 

One way I’ve worked on building empathy across the team this year has been through the simple art of a check in. The pandemic has changed our working lives in a number of different ways, we’ve had board members on furlough, some who have been redundant, others who have inevitably had to take on more workload. So running a lighthearted check in at the start of our board calls was a quick way to set the context we’re all coming from and build team empathy for how tough its been for members this year. It was a little bit of fun where are you on the scale of moody cats? 

7 & 8 Reflection and iteration 

This has been a behaviour that’s obvious but also something that takes continual effort and focus.Reflection is the easier part as long as you make time for it ( however that works for you). I consciously set time aside each week to check in and ask myself what has happened, what have I learnt and what am I thinking about.

While individual reflection is important, reflecting as a team is also super valuable. In my day job we run regular retrospectives where it’s basically a check in on what’s going well and where we can do better. So I aimed to apply some of this thinking within our board meetings, e.g. at the end of the first quarter we ran a slot to ask the board for feedback on what had gone well and where we can improve. I’m also running an end of year retrospective with the other local presidents from across the UK to help pass on any learnings to next year’s team.

Though iterating which is continually tweaking, testing, learning and improving how you do something is much harder and takes more of a conscious effort and commitment. I’ve certainly worked through some different approaches for how I like to communicate, and have found a mix of both video and written works best. That’s why this vlog is both a video and in written format as I’d prefer to only do a video, but for longer forms I know writing something down beforehand helps me develop my thoughts and video helps me to know I’m coming across how I want to. While the written format ensures it’s accessible for a range of audiences and creates lasting content that can be discovered. When you think about anything you want to develop or achieve recognising you can go through a number of formats to get to something that works for you and the team is also good to remember. You don’t need to get it right first time. 

9 & 10 Believe and you will achieve 

Last but not least in order to lead you need to have determination and resilience.

As it’s tough! Self-doubt creeps in, you question your doing a good job and forget all of the times you’ve achieved something.

So as we come to the end of 2020 I always like to look back on my reflections, learnings and achievements. Yep I’m that geeky person who does like to keep an achievement log, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, even if it’s once a month jotting down your highs and lows from that month. I’ve managed to keep a log in a google doc for the first 6 months of the year! We’ve all heard of imposter syndrome and it’s much worse when you’re leading! So remind yourself regularly of what you have overcome and achieved as it helps you get through the tough times. 

One thing I have inevitably found myself reflecting on in terms of my achievements this year is the things I haven’t achieved. This has been the hardest part as it plays to our imposter and inner critique. So I’ve come up with an idea which helps to capture this.

Minimum personal achievement (MPA) – what is the minimum you want to achieve? For example If I had this at the start of 2020 it was to have learnt practical leadership lessons, won a minimum of 2 UK awards and been part of the team that ran the MYTA awards. I can say I’ve achieved two of those and one was out of my control. 

So as we inevitably pause and reflect on 2020 and think about 2021 write down what minimum personal achievement you want to have accomplished by summer 2021 and check back in and see how you get on. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about what I’ve learnt from my year of leading JCI Manchester. I wanted to share this with the intention of showing why JCI is such an important organisation to give young professionals the opportunity to try, learn, fail and keep going in a safe and supportive environment. I feel more confident in myself about stepping up in my professional career with all the learnings and lessons from this year. 

What has been your biggest leadership learning? How can we help ensure our young people get the opportunities they deserve to develop into future leaders?

I’d love to hear any of your thoughts or comments.

Here’s to learning and growing some more in 2021 with a brilliant newly elected board team! 

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