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Develop personal traits
Perhaps the most important of all is your attitude and behaviour to life, work to yourself and to others. There are many people who are excellent at their job in terms of completing their tasks on time and efficiently. Yet they lack basic people skills and even worse do not see the importance of being courteous. If you are to become a manager of head of department, you need to have good people management and leadership skills. This is obvious, but how do you actually try to be a good leader and motivator? One way is to be objective as already discussed, put yourself last and think about others first.
I provide four behaviours and five skills that form the foundations of a successful individual in my opinion. Remember that behaviours and skills are different.
You’ll come across a range of models for different behaviours. I would recommend looking at some such as the AUA CPD Behavioural Framework. Many of these other behaviours and skills from a number of these models have been captured in the Learning and Ownership phases in some shape or form and in the behaviours and skills discussed here.
a) Objectiveness – you can call this being true to yourself so you identify your own vulnerabilities and weaknesses and making them strengths. But it’s much more than that. Especially when making decisions, make sure you leave emotion out of it. Tell the truth and be a person of the highest integrity. Even if accepting an outcome may mean more work (or less work as the case may be!) then accept it. Act in the best interest of your institution not your own. That way you’ll succeed.
Part of being objective is being receptive, always be open to ideas. See the good in someone’s points. Again, why would you want to not take on an idea knowing full well that’s the right the thing to do?
My rule is if a 10 year old approaches you and told you that the way you were planning to carry out a task was wrong, and advised you a different way to do it (and happened to be right), would you listen to him or her? What’s right is right. Leave your ego and personal feelings to the side.
You make better decisions, you perform better in your job, and the more successful you become.
Tip: if you feel that someone is posing a point that is completely inconsistent with yours, take the time to reflect before you make a decision. With a fresh mind you may be more accepting. Also, begin proposing a new task such as a new policy and or changing your staff rota, start off a conversation each time with ‘this is a draft plan and I’m really open to your feedback’. This not only prepares you mentally but also your colleagues may be more courteous in their response to your proposed plan.
b) Diplomacy – anyone can break a chair or hurt someone’s feelings. Why? It’s quick, it’s easy. Taking the time to get your point across diplomatically requires skill, time and patience. As you move further in your career, you will need be more diplomatic as you engage with various stakeholders and work with senior leaders. You may think that as you become more senior in your role that this makes it easier to be more direct in your approach. The reverse is true. The higher you get up the career ladder the more patient you have to be and diplomacy is an important trait of a leader.
Tip: develop a naturally ‘consultative’ style of working with people. In your role, identify who your key stakeholders are and then whenever you are making a decision or considering implementing a change, think about what impact it might have on them. Better still, include them in process well in advance as that will help iron out any issues and will help get their buy in. This way, you live and breathe this approach rather than trying to do it only when it’s needed – chances are you won’t come across sincere or will find it difficult to be truly diplomatic.
c) Personable – who do you think impacts customers the most? If you want people to come to you then be personable and this can help build rapport with colleagues which allows you to work with them and achieve things more easily. I come across many colleagues who are quite placid and formal. There’s a time and place for professionalism and you can be this plus also be personable.
Tip: always try to smile and give a positive vibe when you speak from when you first walk through the door. Staff can feel if you’re stressed so watch your body language. You have received some bad news such as failing a compliance visit from a regulator. But don’t let that show because you have to be the most resilient. In classic Fielder’s theory, some people focus too much on the task, but not the social relationships in an organisation. Take the time to share personal conversations with colleagues, about their family, their holidays, etc.
d) Be inspiring – especially when you become a leader, it’s not enough to just present people with a plan and expect them to get on with it because it makes sense, as it will improve student experience or will save money. Inspire them.
Tip: How? Let your excitable personality shine, if you’re excited about take the time think about how you can express that. Try to leave your own mark on things. Have a vision in itself that you want to ‘make an impact and leave a legacy’. Be remembered. I once quoted this in a high powered interview and got some laughs from pro vice chancellors who were impressed with my drive. I didn’t get the job, but when she wrote to me (and I still have the email!), no matter what you do you have a bright future ahead of you. She was right, a month later I landed my Dean job.
a) Troubleshooter – This can also be called a problem solver but what does this really mean? Lord sugar has often said that he looks for people ‘who get the plot’. This means someone who can quickly understand the issues at hand and assess what needs to be done. The scenario doesn’t have to present itself as a ‘problem’ which is why I prefer the term troubleshooter instead. Solving the issues being faced quickly helps avoid serious ramifications. You often have to be resourceful in thinking of new ways to find information to help you.
Tip: It could be that you haven’t properly monitored the progress of a task, or you need to liaise with colleagues who are based in different locations and need to find a way to manage this. These do not appear as ‘problems’ in the typical way we use this word. But they are nevertheless issues that need resolving such as through holding a quick follow up meeting and getting an update of where the task has reached and allocating remainder tasks with strict timelines and seeking additional help if needed.
b) Abstract thinker – for many, and certainly for me, I already visualise things before I even implement them. This removes 50% of the mental obstacle of working on a task. We all learn differently bit trying to conceptualise what you are trying to do in your mind, really helps in communicating your ideas verbally and in written communication.
Tip: focus on enhancing your creativity by brainstorming, where no ideas are off limits. Try to speak to someone outside of our own role and department, who may be able to provide a different perspective. If you work in the graduation office, try to speak to someone in estates or a colleague in marketing.
c) Analytical and systems thinker – this means being able to read information or increasingly a situation and understand the essence of the issues at hand and how to deal with them. You have to see the bigger picture, and how what you’re doing fits into a departmental or faculty or institutional plan – this is essence systems thinking. You can see then how analytical and systems thinking can also help identify issues and troubleshoot, whilst also helping develop processes because in this case the process such as for dealing with student complaints has to be thought of in clear steps.
Tip: try to think in steps, break down a task into manageable chunks. Understand what else is happening in the organisation (or at least faculty/department) so that you can assess whether your work is compatible. To ensure that your approach is adequate, ensure you involve colleagues who will be impacted by your work to ensure that you have considered their needs. Find out more at the Institute for Systemic Leadership.
d) Planner and project manager – overall, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. Whether you are managing your own tasks or supervising other tasks, you need to think in advance what tasks need to be carried out and you need to plan your time accordingly. This could be arranging examinations for your institution through to timetabling. For both, it would require having clear deadlines for all activities from releasing communications to departments about how to go about making examination or timetabling requests, through to uploading them to the student records system.
Tip: produce action plans and project plans with descriptions of key targets and milestones along with deadlines and people responsible. This is a basic methodology but of course you could use critical path analysis or PRINCE2 methods.
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