Management & leadership, Leadership

Training for the Leadership Olympics?

Discover how we're juggling our busy schedules with leadership training at DSC.

At DSC, things are unbelievably busy right now.

We’re implementing a new CRM database, have a massive new online tool for trustees nearly ready to launch, we’re in the final stages of finishing our flagship Directory of Grant Making Trusts book, and we’re in the closing stages of our audit for 2020. And that’s on top of the usual work to develop and run our online training courses, run Funds Online, carry out critical research projects, all while simultaneously planning for what comes next after the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this week was about the worst possible time for our leadership team to spend a day away from all of those critical projects, and spend it reflecting on their performance and leadership styles instead.

But that’s what we did, and here’s why: when else are we going to do it?

With any learning and development, there’s rarely a right time or an easy time to do it. And with something as complex and important as leadership, developing your skills isn’t a one-off thing you can learn and be done with.

To draw a painful parallel, it’s like training for a marathon. Working on your skills as a leader, applying them in practice, seeing the results, and reflecting on how they’ve worked is the equivalent of all those training runs. The running after work, early on a Sunday morning, in the rain or the blistering heat – consistently, time after time. And it’s consistency that’s the key. Physically, or in terms of leadership, that’s what builds your resilience. Over time you face lots of small and different challenges, which with reflection, learning and adaptation make you better able to deal with the bigger challenges to come.

Unfortunately though, the biggest leadership challenges are rarely as simple as running 26.2 miles. It’s more like training for the Olympics, without knowing when they’ll be held or what event you’ll be doing.

And that’s why we had our leadership training day this week, despite all being frantically busy. It’s why we talk about our organisational values and how we’re living up to them at every leadership team meeting. It’s why we work really hard on communicating effectively as leaders so that all of our staff feel connected to what we’re all trying to achieve together, and why we put so much effort into the fundamentals. Staff briefings, 121s, getting our policies and procedures right (and constantly reviewing them), monitoring progress and talking about results, living our values and demonstrating the behaviours that uphold them.

We didn’t expect the pandemic at all, and it’s been *unbelievably* disruptive to us as an organisation, as it has to pretty much every other charity, but as a leadership team we were prepared nonetheless. Not because any of us were especially amazing or insightful or clever about how we dealt with the challenge in the moment, but because as a team we’d done the hard reps. We’d invested in our skills as leaders and as a team consistently, and made time to do that regularly despite having all the excuses not to.

So when we turned up ready to run a marathon and the universe told us we had to do the pole vault instead, we didn’t panic. We fell back on what we’d learned, on our shared understanding of what was important and what we could do together as a team, and got on with tackling the challenge together.

If you’re waiting for things to get easier, or maybe even worse, before working on developing your leadership skills, it might be time to think again – before someone hands you a javelin or sends you up the high-dive board!