Tommy Snipe, Charityworks 2015 trainee and Business Development Researcher at Enham Trust interviews Peta Wilkinson, the Chief Executive Officer at his placement organisation about what being a leader really means, the challenges it brings and receives some great advice for aspiring social leaders
My journey to leadership has not necessarily been planned or structured in the same way that perhaps other people’s might have been. A lot of it has been about what happened at the time or opportunities that arose, and a lot of it has been about where I felt that there was a need and I could contribute something positive.
For me, there’s a huge difference between leadership and management. Leadership is about the broader strategic agenda; it’s about development, it’s about people. It’s about inspiring trust, being able to articulate the vision, asking why rather than how, having an eye on the horizon, really stimulating people to think and develop and inspiring people to be passionate about all the things that are important. You absolutely do not have to be in a management position to be a leader.
There have been many challenges I have faced in leadership. I think management programmes are always very difficult because you are encouraging people to think about a different possible future. There is an implied assumption, often on their part, that you are saying what they’re doing now is not right or good. That’s where leadership comes into play because you have to be inspirational, you have to listen, you have to understand people’s perspective and you have to be able to articulate something that’s very compelling in order for them to want to think about it in a different way.
I think that if you’re looking at leadership roles then the key areas of influence are really around strategic leadership, being influential from business, financial and commercial perspectives, positioning the organisation and having a really good customer focus. The things that get in the way of good leadership are a lack of clarity, and when things are too complicated for people to engage with. Competing priorities and not articulating the imperatives is a problem. Ineffective teams and the inability to develop effective teams is a problem. Not having clarity about your unique selling point and what you’re there to do is a problem. And if you don’t have a focus on your customers then everything is lost.
Above anything else, the qualities and characteristics of a leader have to be understanding your customers, understanding the bigger picture, having an expanded mind-set, and being restlessly curious. You must have self-confidence, but with humility and a sense of humour. You must be a great communicator and must have a real sense of always wanting to do better. In terms of values, honesty and integrity are absolutely essential, but what’s really important to me is being authentic, being believable and for the things you are doing to really, genuinely matter. If I could give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to take more time to ensure that you’re taking people with you.