Masterclass 1 – Knowing Myself As A Leader

We recently had the honour of being joined by Aileen Evans, CIH President and CEO at Grand Union Housing, for our first virtual #EasternLeaders2020 Masterclass, where Aileen shared her own story, as well as insights into what it means to be a leader right now, and how as organisational leaders we can overcome some of the most common challenges she herself has faced throughout her leadership journey.

The key takeaways from this enlightening session are summarised below:

On overcoming fears and ‘imposter syndrome’

To truly become an effective leader, it is important to challenge your own inner dialogue and self-belief. Aileen drew on her initial early experiences, recalling points where she had felt a lack of confidence, particularly when it came to ‘fitting in’ in with others and matching up to expectations. It was a crucial moment to understand thinking about what she wanted and where she wanted to be was as important, if not more so, than simply fitting in to an organisation. Realising that everyone needs to find a ‘me’ sized hole and ask questions such as ‘what does this organisation offer me?’, ‘what value do I bring to it?’, ‘where do I fit as my authentic self?’ and ‘what can I offer?’ was a major breakthrough in overcoming her own dreaded imposter syndrome, and is something that many leaders face along their leadership journeys.

Coaching, training and utilising mentors have played a large part in learning to ‘turn down’ the impostor syndrome volume and helped Aileen greatly in taking deliberate steps to build self-confidence. Finding a coach or mentor that can hold up a mirror to ourselves and helping to learn about oneself as an authentic leader is key to understanding ourselves honestly.

Worrying less, saying yes and taking action, despite feeling the fear, can help others on their leadership journey to overcome challenges. Aileen stressed that it’s important to remember the only thing certain in life is change, and as leaders it’s important to build up trust around us so that people can be confident that when they make their own mistakes, they know any problems will be worked through together.

Creating trust within the organisation and the importance of mental health awareness

Aileen believes honesty is the fundamental key –  No one expects a leader to have all the answers, and if people feel safe enough say what they are truly thinking, feel valued and listened to, it will build an environment of trust. Once there is a culture of trust everyone can take the journey together, and not be afraid to ask for help from others within the organisation. It is important to talk to people and to also listen, asking what each individual believes the organisation is capable of achieving. Any gaps in thinking are then visible and can be addressed together.

Aileen has spoken openly and honestly about her own mental health and believes creating a positive culture about mental health awareness is vital for effective modern leadership. If a leader can talk about his or her own feelings it allows others to talk about theirs too.

Future workspace and modern leadership qualities

Being yourself, making human connections with people, being authentic and showing vulnerability are all qualities that modern leadership should encompass. Understanding that as leaders we have a  responsibility and that as we shape the world around us others will emulate our behaviour. Empowering others to make decisions with support and guidance and allowing for mistakes to happen are all key indicators we are leading effectively in the modern work environment.

It’s important to understand how leadership is changing. Organisations no longer have a list of duties anymore; they will often be required to use good judgment to do the right thing at the right time in any given moment, and if people are frightened to make mistakes they won’t feel empowered. They need to know if something fails it’s not the end of the world and life will move on. It’s important to create ownership and roles and spaces that people can own.

Avoiding leadership ‘burnout’

As a leader it’s important to create the space and time to think. Thinking organisations can do more of the right things faster. Creating space is important, not least for positive mental health. Making sure as individuals we do things that feel is right for us and find ways to think in our best way. To avoid burnout finding effective ways to respond rather than simply continuously reacting is not only healthier but produces better outcomes.

Final piece of parting advice from Aileen:

Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

With great thanks to Aileen Evans (CIH President and CEO at Grand Union Housing), Michelle Gant (The Engaging people Co), our Masterclass facilitator, and Vicki Haverson (t-three) and Dan Short (Greenacre Recruitment) for our programme creation and content.

To downoad the official programme, visit our Resources section.

If you’d like to take part in our Eastern Leadership Programme, please get in touch for further details.

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