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Amanda Sherratt-Smith / 7 min read
Contextualizing my leadership role within Staffordshire University.
I've been a leader within my department for quite a few years and overall I was confident in my ability to lead my team. Shortly before I took part in The Common Purpose Programme, I'd had my role realigned with the University’s new service objectives.
This was a really exciting opportunity for me and something I’m very passionate about. The new role involved me engaging key people and services across the University to facilitate and drive changes to move towards a more family-friendly campus.
There were a few challenges with the task:
- I wasn't given a budget to deliver changes
- No shared objectives or key performance indicators across the University connected to specific developments required to improve the campus to be more family friendly
- Most importantly, I didn't have any line management responsibility and those I needed to have consideration and to make changes to deliver all the developments were at a higher management level than myself, so it was really important for me to influence and share my vision – describing benefits and potential impact
I was hoping that The Common Purpose Programme would provide some tools to equip me to tackle the task ahead of me and provide strategies to influence in the best possible way.
The programme allowed me to hit base with others facing similar leadership issues. The structure allowed us to connect in smaller breakout groups, resulting in deeper discussions with one another.
The programme, to be honest, sometimes felt a little self-indulgent. I think, as leaders, we don't always give ourselves time; we're always considering other members of the team and their needs. So for me it was the first time that I had a platform that was safe, confidential, and solely for me and other leaders facing similar challenges.
After the programme ended, I took a lot of key learning takeaways and applied them within my role, which has helped to address and support various challenges:
Understanding different contexts
The local immersion group exercise during the programme highlighted the importance of understanding different contexts. It forced me into truly listening to what was going on for each person.
There were also exercises which allowed us to practice asking open-ended questions. I have to admit that I didn’t realize how hard this was to do. When you’ve been a leader for a while, it is perhaps too easy to jump in to fix the issue and assume that you know the answer. I realized that this isn’t always the most effective or productive approach, especially in terms of my role where I’m working with different teams and people.
One of the guest speakers discussed the importance of looking at a situation, people or challenge, as if it was the first time that they'd ever seen it. Essentially, a reminder to see things from a beginner’s perspective.
I've been working at the University for over 20 years so that really resonated with me. It was a reminder to make sure to come with an open mind and to look at everything as if seeing it for the first time, to hold back any assumptions and preconceived notions. This really helped me to pause before action and supported me to coach and facilitate solution finding rather than fixing the issue. This supported my team in finding their own solutions and empowered colleagues along with increasing commitment, engagement and accountability.
Seeking informal feedback
The Common Purpose Programme sessions deeply explored what you bring to the table and how to ask for feedback. I find formally asking for feedback through 360 degree tools useful in my job. What I didn’t realize was how effective informal feedback could be.
I carried out one of the suggested exercises from the programme, where you ask colleagues three words they would use to describe you. The results were powerful and surprising.
I started using this informal method within my team and gradually decided to step out of my comfort zone to approach people across the University. It gave real insight of how others felt about me and proved to be a very positive and helpful exercise – at times I suffer from imposter syndrome and this exercise helped to reset my frame of mind and build my confidence in my own abilities.
Following on from The Common Purpose Programme, when it comes to my role, I believe I have made great progress:
- I have managed to involve key players in the development of the child friendly campus.
- I have created an action group to progress things forward. This means it’s not just me leading the team but getting other people are involved and committed to the development.
- For each area that we've identified for action, there's an action plan developed. I'm not the owner of these plans, compared to in the past where I’ve mostly been hands-on and had complete ownership of action plans.
I feel that I've really grown in confidence. I've learned to let go of some things and delegated responsibilities. I've definitely gained more self-awareness – particularly on the impact that I have on others as a leader. I successfully received a commendation – Connected Leader Award from my employer. The connections we made with other managers and leaders in our local regional group have also continued, we meet monthly. The drop in sessions give us a time to discuss our difficulties and successes, and to share contacts and strategies. The group is very supportive and has expanded our networks.
Amanda Sherratt-Smith is the Head of Childcare & Family Services at Staffordshire University.
She took part in The Common Purpose Programme for Emerging Leaders, in 2020.