Posted: 18 November 2016
In the final of a three part blog series, Sharon Allen shares what she has learnt from taking on the responsibilities that come with being a manager and leader.
In the first two parts of this blog (in case you missed them, here's the first and the second) I was passing on tips from a time when I was building up my experience and deciding on my career trajectory in much the same way many of our impressive graduate management trainees are beginning to do in their placements. So in this final part of the blog I started to talk to them about what I’d learnt from taking on the responsibilities that come with being a manager and leader.
So my next top tip came from my experience in my first management role managing an organisation providing services for homeless women and children. One of the workers came to me to explain that we would have to ask a woman who had recently moved in with her child - having fled a violent partner- to leave because she had failed the habitual resident test, and was therefore ineligible for benefits so wouldn’t be able to claim housing benefit nor pay her service charge. This seemed so blatantly wrong to me and together we worked with colleagues in the local law centre and welfare rights team to find a solution. So the tip is - if something appears inherently unjust then do all you can to find a solution.
My next role some years later was with Shelter and two tips from this one - the first is don’t be discouraged by set-backs. Shelter was an organisation I had admired and wanted to be part of for a long time and finally a job came up in Yorkshire that I applied for. I was so thrilled to get an interview and then devastated to be told I hadn’t got the job. The person giving me feedback told me there was another job coming up in the organisation that the panel thought I would be a perfect fit for and strongly encouraged me to apply – all I could hear was that I hadn’t got the job.
Guess what, some months later another role was advertised that was a much better fit for my skills and experience and this time I was appointed and had a brilliant time in that role, so if at first you don’t succeed……..
My second tip from my time with Shelter is always look for the solution. I had joined the organisation shortly after major housing legalisation had been enacted and one of the clauses that Shelter had campaigned against was that councils could refuse to accept someone on to the housing and homelessness registers if they were unsuitable to be a tenant. In most cases this was used in instances of anti-social behaviour.
Of course, it is right that we should all be able to live in our homes without fear or threat of anti-social behaviour. What Shelter had determined was that a significant proportion of people who were being evicted and excluded for anti-social behaviour were people with support needs. This is not to excuse the behaviour, rather to look at the underlying issues and see how these can be resolved as it is clearly in no-one’s interests for people to be denied housing and forced into homelessness.
This led to me initiating the Rochdale Inclusion project, an innovative project that worked with households at risk of or who had been excluded from the housing register, offering and ensuring they accepted a package of support that would address the issues that had led to this exclusion and re-integrating them as good neighbours. Thanks to an amazing woman who managed Rochdale’s Homelessness service and her boss who were willing to try something different and support from Shelter, the project was set up and initial evaluation from York University was very positive.
Then I moved on to become Operations Director and then CEO at St Anne’s Community Services and my tips based on my experiences there were about investing in your own development, in your colleagues and in your networks. As a new CEO I knew it was vital I had support from someone more experienced and found myself a mentor to whom I remain continuously grateful for sharing his insights and wisdom.
It was also a source of real pride that the organisation I now led recognised the value of investing in our colleagues and supported a whole range of learning and development including a real focus on supporting colleagues to achieve qualifications. And as my experience and confidence grew, so did my networks and my tip here is both give generously and accept graciously.
Nearly up to date then, and my last top tip is be willing to be persuaded. When the recruitment consultants first contacted me about the role at Skills for Care I told them I wouldn’t be applying because I was very happy in my current role and not looking to move. Skilled as they were at their role, they asked me to take a look at the recruitment pack over the weekend and if on Monday I still wasn’t interested, how much they would value my feedback. You know the rest of that story!
On arrival at Skills for Care, there were some tough calls to be made and my next tip is do the difficult stuff well, with consideration for all colleagues around you and with exemplary planning and communication.
This useful and challenging session finished with two final tips that are incredibly important to me in my leadership role.
Firstly; be the real deal, be authentic, let people’s experience of you match what they hear you say or read that you have written and, secondly, remember what a major privilege it is for us to be involved in other’s people’s lives – our role is always to serve as well as we can.