Learn from the wisdom of others - and your mistakes

Look after yourself, master budgets and aim to be fair rather than popular, are just some of the things our columnist Martin Edwards advises to ensure effective leadership

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

During the days of Gordon Brown's premiership, I was asked to contribute to a government report on leadership, which might have struck some commentators as a bit like Jeremy Clarkson asking for helpful advice on political correctness. Nonetheless, I agreed to take part, as all voluntary sector people do whenever anyone in government asks them.

The resulting tome is no doubt now gathering dust under a pot plant somewhere in Whitehall, but it got me thinking: how would I compile a report on leadership?

I'd look at the brilliant leaders I've worked for, which wouldn't take long, and distil their wisdom. I'd also recall the big mistakes I've made, which would take far longer.

Then I'd cram the best wisdom and the worst mistakes into a list short enough that people would bother to read and retain it. And here it is.

The biggest time-waster in any organisation is choosing the wrong things to do, and then doing them really well. So before you do the thing right, ask yourself: are you doing the right thing?

The most influential decisions you ever take, however, are in recruitment. Appoint people more for their attitude than for their experience, because you can give them experience but you can't give them the right attitude.

If someone has the wrong attitude, get rid of them - regardless of their talents. Managers with terrible interpersonal skills cause particular havoc. Only when they go will you realise how much they were hindering the whole team.

In all decision-making, aim to be fair rather than popular. Popularity comes only to leaders who don't chase it. As a boss, pay attention to people in unsung roles: receptionists, cleaners and 'shop floor' workers are the people whom your service users meet first or most. Tell them why they matter. Listen to their feedback and tell them later how you used it.

On finance, master your budget's numbers but don't let them be your master: adapt mid-year and be flexible. Above all, stop people from spending money on things that don't matter; the closer you look, the more you will find.

Look after yourself, too. Work fast and focused to avoid long hours - don't you want a life outside work? If you are demoralised, realise that the only person who will pull you out of a slump is you. As Martin Luther King said: "Don't curse the dark; light a candle."

One sure way to raise your game is always to observe people whose abilities you admire. It's the best training and it's free.

Finally, give to your people until you feel like you can't give any more, then carry on giving. They will repay you many times over. David and Nick, I give you this report because we are all in this together.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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