OPINION: Leaders, take a back seat and let others talk

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

There's nothing like an AGM to get you thinking. They can be uplifting, tedious, even stormy. Indeed, I remember one where an angry stakeholder spat in my face.

Returning from Guide Dogs' AGM last week, I reflected on why it felt different and good. For the first time, staff at different levels of our organisation took it in turns to present their different programmes of work. They spoke with galvanising energy and pride.

As I listened, two things struck me: the importance of developing good communication skills and, crucially, identifying leaders at all levels of the organisation.

So, what makes a good leader; how do they "tune in

to their organisation; and why is this particularly important in the voluntary sector?

Leadership is about releasing energy in staff and volunteers who want to play a part in realising the vision of the organisation. If you can invest in these people, they in turn can motivate others. Good leaders create an environment in which people are empowered to become leaders.

Robert Greenleaf once said: "The only test of leadership is that somebody follows.

I would add, "and wants to follow".

This recognises what motivates people to work in the voluntary sector - loyalty and commitment. You can tell people what to do and present them with a 5-year plan to ensure that managerially something happens. Alternatively you can enthuse people and support them to work out the plan themselves, coaching them to innovate and be accountable.

Leaders paint a picture of what lies beyond the next horizon, envisaging the future and how it might be achieved. They encourage people by modelling what they expect in others, and by being "in touch

with their organisation.

In this way, they engender a sense of purpose in people.

Good leadership also means being flexible. The voluntary sector is a volatile and complex place. In difficult times, you need to be out there, leading from the front and showing the way. At other times, you need to encourage from behind. A good leader knows intuitively when to "change gear".

Back to my AGM experience. I didn't give a presentation because I didn't need to - others could do it better. Time for me to experience leading from behind and cheering from the sidelines.

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