Connected leadership: connecting people with purpose

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Doug Parkin and Rebecca Nestor explore connected leadership and its applications to the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme.

A leader connects people with purpose…and purpose with people

There’s a truth about strategy that is hard to find in many of the textbooks. It concerns engaging people. The primary aim of any strategy is to connect people with purpose. It is this connection that releases both personal and collective energy and makes things happen. If organisational strategies fail to connect people with purpose, and purpose with people, then they amount to little more than a vague map of possibilities or the best guess in terms of where the organisation’s current trajectory may lead next. Engaging people is at the heart of the difference between strategic planning and ‘being strategic’.

In his excellent book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters (2011), Richard Rumelt observes that bad strategy arises from emphasising planning over execution, fuzzy goals over action, and high-sounding words over concrete directions. These points may sound like the mantra of a pragmatist, but how often have you read a strategy document and put it down in frustration, asking:

  • Yes, but what does all that really mean?
  • Yes, but what are we actually going to do?
  • Yes, but what has that to do with me?

To be truly strategic involves Connected Leadership: the ability to connect with yourself, to connect with other people, to connect with the organisation and to connect with the wider world:

  • Connecting with yourself relates to your values, history, emotional intelligence and personal priorities.
  • Connecting with other people is all about relationships, communication, empathy, influence and negotiation.
  • Connecting with the organisation concerns context, ethos, strategy, purpose, narrative and direction.
  • Connecting with the wider world involves listening, contributing and impacting – shaping futures, contributing to communities, society, the economy and the environment.

Between all these connections sits a field of engagement, and that field is alive with a vast array of factors that help or hinder connectedness. Take the simple example of how well connected an individual employee is to the organisation they work for: the range of connections could include achieving personal goals, relating to the cause or purpose, opportunities to develop, relationships with key individuals, levels of reward or recognition, fulfilling challenges, belonging to a team or project, or progress and results.  Some of these connections may have deep roots, others may be more temporary or transient, and the field is always alive and in flux. A team or department, if regarded as an entity, will have a similar dynamic map of connections.

To develop as a leader, to achieve engagement at all levels and be strategic, involves a combination of four leadership intelligences. These intelligences enable leaders to understand, interpret and interact with some of what goes on in the field of engagement (‘some’ because a lot will be dynamic and elusive). The first of these, in every sense, and the best known, is emotional intelligence. Progressing on from this, the second is social and political intelligence. The next is about the narratives that are the life of any organisation, and this is called cultural (or narrative) intelligence. And, finally, there is an inclusive intelligence that bridges every aspect of an organisation with the wider world, particularly the environment and community (or communities), in which it operates.

Independence… [is] middle-class blasphemy.  We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth (GB Shaw, Pygmalion, 1912).

The Connected Leadership Model is illustrated fully in the headline graphic. This describes the four connections (yourself, other people, organisation and wider world) and shows between them the field of engagement within which the four leadership intelligences are at work. It also shows the way in which change challenges impact upon various connections and, depending on where they strike, stimulate and bring into play one or more of the intelligences.

Many of the best developments in organisations arise from a collision of people and events that can never be fully forecast. It is, therefore, as important for leaders to ‘be strategic’ as it is to plan and develop strategies. Leaders who connect people with purpose, and purpose with people, release personal energy and potential without getting bogged down in aligning goals or re-engineering structures. This is a more emergent and adaptive approach that is focussed on connecting the heart, soul, mind and strength of individuals and teams with the real purpose of the organisation in the prevailing context, at the current time, in the wider world.

The stories we tell are fateful: our ability to change ourselves, our organisations, and our world depends on our capacity to re-imagine them; nothing changes unless the stories change” (Geoff Mead, 2014).

Connected Leadership is the model that fundamentally underpins the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme (PSSL). It is one of the Leadership Foundation’s most highly regarded executive programmes aimed at experienced heads of school or department/service (academic and professional), newly appointed deans of faculty and those aspiring to such senior strategic roles. PSSL supports participants to reflect upon and develop their leadership identity through an active and aware engagement with contemporary perspectives on organisational change.

Read Doug’s blog post on narrative: Ghostbusters? Narrative – a question of cultural identity

Doug Parkin the programme director for the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme at the Leadership Foundation. He also runs a number of bespoke and core programmes, in addition to international projects. 

Rebecca Nestor is the co-director of the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership  programme. She is also an Aurora facilitator for the Core Leadership Skills development day, and undertakes bespoke projects across the UK and internationally.

More information:

Emotional intelligence: “The ability to monitor one’s own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action” (Salovey and Mayer, 1990)

Social intelligence: “Acting wisely in human relationships” (Edward Thorndike, 1920); “When we act in ways that help create optimal states in others” (Daniel Goleman, 2006).

Political intelligence: “Being able to and having the inclination to locate and understand power in an organisation” (Baddeley and James, 1987);

Inclusive intelligence: “Globalisation makes it clear that social responsibility is required not only of governments, but of companies and individuals” (Anna Lindh, 2002)

The dates for Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership 2017-18 are now available online.

My Aurora journey – Dr Hannah Bartlett

Dr Hannah Bartlett image

Dr Hannah Bartlett, Senior Lecturer in Optometry at Aston University talks to APEX about her time on the Aurora programme, run by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

I am a clinical health scientist and teacher, and my aim is to reach professorial status through leadership in research, excellence in teaching, and being a positive role model.

I recognised that participating in the Aurora programme would allow me time out to focus on my career plan and strategies for development. The opportunity to enrol on the Aurora programme could not have come at a better time for me. I had recently returned to work following the birth of my second child. Prior to starting a family my focus was to secure an academic position and establish myself as a researcher and teacher. Upon my return to work I needed to re-evaluate and plan my progression route. A challenge was achieving this as a part-time academic, and building the internal and external relationships that are necessary to progress.

One of the requirements of enrolling on the Aurora programme is to partner with a mentor within your own institution. This gave me the confidence to ask a very senior colleague to mentor me, and this relationship has been invaluable. In addition, it was very useful to have the opportunity to network with, and learn about the experiences of other motivated individuals on the programme itself.

I started my career as an optometrist and this clinical role allowed me to develop my communication skills. However, I found that I sometimes lacked confidence when communicating with senior colleagues, for example in committee meetings. Attending the Aurora programme   provided the opportunity for me to consider and understand my own strengths, but also to recognise and identify ways of minimising my weaknesses. I became aware of the importance of taking time to make positive choices, which allow me to maximise my contribution to the university whilst also accruing experience that will support future promotion.

The Aurora programme has helped me develop the skills necessary to progress my own career, as well to support my colleagues. I am now involved in mentoring and have recently been asked to lead a new institution-wide initiative called ‘Aston Women’, which aims to support women in reaching their full potential. The leadership skills that I have developed also benefit my research by supporting my development of international collaborations.

Dr Hannah Bartlett is a senior lecturer in Optometry at Aston University. Dr Bartlett took part in year two of Aurora.

This article was originally published on the Apex Woman website.


Deja vue

Fiona's Blog

The teaching excellence framework seems familiar to those working in healthcare education, writes our director of research, Professor Fiona Ross CBE.

That the government should assume teaching is not “at the heart of the system” and needs a good shake up is both challenging and combative. But its response—a teaching excellence framework—is not entirely new. A very similar system has been in place in healthcare programmes for almost a decade, although it was designed to improve employer rather than student choice. Subjecting all university programmes to the kind of performance management already seen in healthcare both feels like deja vue and offers an opportunity to share some lessons.

It was Margaret Thatcher’s ideology of the internal market that led to the purchaser-provider split in healthcare education in the late 1980s. At the same time there was a mass move of large contracts for nursing and midwifery into higher education. Universities became, in the language of that government, “providers” of healthcare education for nurses, midwives and allied health professions and subject to performance assessment. Although the health portfolio can be a large business and strong income stream for universities, this performance management is often hidden from view. It it tends to be managed in-house by faculties and separately from the rest of the academic portfolio. But perhaps it won’t be invisible for much longer. And it offers useful insights as universities prepare their responses to the consultation on the teaching excellence framework.

The Quality Contract Performance Management System was introduced in London in 2007 and later aligned to the Health Education England national education outcomes framework. The focus of the “contract performance” was about value for the NHS investment in universities and to ensure newly qualified professionals were “fit for purpose”. The system measures outcomes across domains that have evolved since its inception, which include recruitment and widening participation, research and practice innovation, placement learning, student satisfaction, progression, attrition, pass rates and employment. Universities return quantitative data quarterly, which is enhanced with qualitative evidence—for example to support claims in applied research and innovative education. Red/amber/green ratings are applied to the contract performance indicators and annual reports are produced for each profession, which are published externally as league tables. Financial penalties are applied for attrition and performance influences annual commissioning decisions about growth or disinvestment in student numbers. The metrics have been used as benchmarking data in the process of competitive tenders that have led to provider market exits. There are such powerful parallels with the proposed teaching excellence framework that I almost wonder if civil servants do talk to each other across government.

From managing one of these teaching excellence framework lookalikes, I have learned that it is overwhelmingly and disproportionately resource intensive. Although there was no new money, my organisation decided to prioritise a strategic leadership role to oversee the process and invest in building data-analytical capacity within the faculty. Managing the data is crucial; having a devolved system of data handling and reporting paid dividends and ensured there was ownership and understanding by module leaders right the way up to heads of school. Attention to detail is also crucial. On many occasions the eagle eyes of our data analysts spotted mistakes made by the commissioners that could have made a significant difference in the institutional rating.

Leadership is vital to avoid the organisation becoming preoccupied with feeding a data-hungry system on an industrial scale without seeing the broader opportunity to build a system that improves quality. Data can be used to identify priorities, support organisational change and make improvements to teaching and learning. For example, we introduced values-based recruitment, to ensure we were selecting students who were motivated by the right things, and initiated a system of facilitated peer-led learning in small groups to encourage early interventions when students showed signs of struggling.

Yet there are differences between the healthcare and teaching systems. The first is that the teaching excellence framework narrative is about incentivising good teaching to benefit students and enable choice; universities that achieve excellence will be able to charge higher fees, whereas the NHS has a fixed price for students and penalties imposed on universities for poor outcomes. The narrative around the teaching excellence framework focuses more on excellence and sharing, whereas in the NHS it is on identifying the bad and rooting it out. Messages around the teaching excellence framework emphasise the need to ensure teaching has parity with research, whereas health commissioners have traditionally been ambivalent as to the value ascribed to research in teaching. The plan is for assessment of teaching to be done largely by peer review and to produce better information for students, whereas the NHS system is a top down inspection regime to provide metrics for employers to make commissioning decisions.

Everyone wants to see students getting the best education and that means good teaching, informed by cutting edge research and scholarship. The big risk of the teaching excellence framework is that it will end up being a burden, measure what is easy to count and fail to capture the hallmarks of quality, such as reflective and critical thinking. However, as long as leaders argue the case for balance and proportionality, these kind of metrics do have a place. My experience from healthcare is they can indeed be valuable in driving good practice and improving the student experience.

Professor Fiona Ross CBE is director of research at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and formerly executive dean of the faculty of health, social care and education, run as a partnership by Kingston University and St George’s, University of London.

This article was originally published in Research Fortnightly. To find out more click here.