Oct 18

'Fessing up' to our vulnerabilities

Posted: 17 October 2018

Our CEO Sharon Allen responds to a blog by Skills for Care's Vice Chair, Neil Taylor, who asked if leaders can ‘fess up’ to their vulnerabilities.

How lucky am I to have Neil Taylor as Vice Chair of my board, someone who is reflective and willing to share learning from that reflection so openly.

This latest blog from Neil, reflecting on vulnerability as a leader, being willing to admit to getting things wrong and saying sorry reminded me of one of my favourite management articles ‘Why Should Anyone be Led by You’ Goffee & Jones (Goffee R and Jones G, 2000, Harvard Business Review). One of the points that resonates with me from this article is the notion of selective vulnerability where the authors suggest that leaders that colleagues want to follow can effectively combine clarity, coherence and authenticity with, at appropriate times, being willing to own to not knowing all the answers and sometimes getting it wrong.

None of us are perfect, so it’s inevitable that, at times, we will not live up to our own high standards in the way we relate with colleagues or the quality of our work. None of us is omnipotent and nor should we expect of ourselves or others to know everything. Which is not to say we shouldn’t continually strive for greater knowledge, nor for continuous improvement. It is, though, to acknowledge that we are human, and we need to show our humanity in our interactions with others.

As CEO of the leadership and workforce development organisation for adult social care, I am of course committed to everyday learning for people at every level in organisations. Learning takes many forms, I’m not just talking about formal learning through a course or programme, important though this is, especially in a sector that still has less than 50% of our colleagues with a qualification at Level 2 or above. I’m also talking about learning through observing others, through feedback, reading an article or blog and so many other ways that we all learn.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as a new manager was to pace change. I was young and impatient to improve everything I could see needed changing. I’d done all the listening to the people the organisation supported, colleagues working alongside me and other partners and stakeholders. I had a long list they’d given me about the changes they wanted to see and it was exciting to start implementing the change and see people flourish through this. Until about six months in when I sensed tension creeping in and some of the colleagues who had been so supportive starting to resist the next steps.

What was this about? I couldn’t understand as all I was doing was bringing in the changes people had said they wanted. The lightbulb moment came when I was talking this through with a more experienced colleague and realised that although the changes were what people wanted, changing everything at pace was deeply unsettling. People needed time to get used to one set of changes before I launched into the next phase. A valuable lesson that has stayed with me.

If we genuinely want transformation of social care and health provision so that it meets the expressed needs of citizens, we need to be willing to try new ways of doing things. We won’t always get it right first time although we should always do our utmost to achieve this. When we get things wrong, we need to be the first to acknowledge this, say sorry and share learning so we get it better next time. If we can model this as leaders we will remove blame cultures that prevent people from trying and from being honest and be on the road to real empowerment and change.

Thank you Neil for sharing your reflections and for being willing to be vulnerable.