• Dan O'Driscoll

Situational leadership is the name of the game!


Our ways of working continue to evolve and I was keen to understand how those changes are impacting senior leaders. Following the recent blog post about compassionate leadership I caught up with Georgia Boon from the Barnwood Trust. We spoke about the impact of Covid-19, what it's felt like to be in a new role and leadership styles.


Interview


Tell me about the Barnwood Trust and your role.

I’m Director of Partnerships at Barnwood Trust. My role is to amplify the learning and knowledge of the trust, and through that, to influence how things work in Gloucestershire to create the best possible place for disabled people and people with mental health challenges to live.


I started in post at the end of January, and was still on my induction when the lockdown started six weeks later. I have two teams in my Directorate – Comms and Research, comprising 14 people altogether.


What has the impact on work been like?

It’s been complicated as everyone has their own unique situation – they may be shielding, or living alone, or have caring responsibilities. The personal impact has been really different depending on the person. Our practical ability to continue working has been straightforward as we work in the cloud and are set up for remote working.


The team have a new director, and they have been through enormous change in lots of different ways. One challenge has been the work flow, in that existing work has been paused that related to the overall plan, and replaced with other work quickly, so inevitably there has been a sense of disempowerment for the team. We’re in year 9 of a 10 year strategy, so everyone was really familiar with their work and knew what they were doing before the crisis.


Have you taken on more emotional responsibility?

I think being a new leader has made this especially challenging. My two direct line reports are extremely capable and really experienced and have led their teams for a long time. They are bearing a lot of the emotional weight. What has been hard for me and where I have felt that loss, has been around those informal conversations with the wider team. It’s taught me a lot about how those informal discussions are really important, especially for a senior leader and for someone who is new to an organisation. It’s really difficult to have those informal conversations through a video call as they aren’t informal. I’m missing those conversations. It would have been different if I had joined a year earlier as we would have been through those, forming, storming, norming, performing stages.


I still don’t know people that well and it makes me question my approach. I’m very fortunate that I have those strong team members.


What type of leader are you? Sum it up in a few words.

I’m an empowering leader, who trusts my team will do a good job and will want to do a good job. I’m a positive but a decisive leader. If people want a decision and want direction, I can provide that. I like to give people lots of space and it’s not in my nature to be a controlling leader, I like people to do their job in their own way.


In a sentence, what does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is about serving your team to help them be the best they can be in their role and beyond.


How have you changed your leadership style during the crisis?

It’s definitely changed and that has felt a loss to me. I feel like the team aren’t getting to see the best of me. I’m finding it not as easy to be as empowering and I’m having to be directive because of the responsive nature of our current work. I’m being less consultative, and it feels like the focus has to be more about how people feel rather than what they think, which doesn’t sit well with me. I’m missing the richness of other people going away to think about work together, and those informal discussions.


The thing that I love most is leading and managing people and I’m not doing it the way I would like to because of the circumstances.


Has the crisis made you think differently about leadership? Will you do anything differently?

That’s a great question. I think I will value informal connections more with people. I’ve always had this nagging doubt about whether that is a waste of time - should I be more task driven? But actually, it’s made me reflect that the informal relationships are hugely valuable, as being task driven all the time isn’t sustainable.


One of the things that I have learnt is that I’m now being a lot clearer about “I think this and this is why we are doing that.” I felt I have been self-conscious of that in the past so this has helped to speed things up as we are having to make decisions and implement change at such pace, whereas before it would have taken 6 months to a year.


What will be the positive changes to the Barnwood Trust? Do you think the speed of change will continue?

I don’t know. My job has become about the disproportionate affect that social distancing is having on disabled people and people with mental health challenges. We are all in for a difficult year, more so people who before this were traditionally isolated within our communities. There is a lot of pain that comes with that. It’s really unjust and a horrible fact. There will be a price for that so I don’t feel yet there is a clear path on positive change due to the high cost of the crisis for disabled people and people with mental health challenges.


What has it felt like being new in role and having to navigate through coronavirus?

My personal reflection is that there have been a lot of adrenaline moments that I’ve just had to go with it! One moment I will remember was presenting the C-19 response plan in my 7th week with the organisation. My reflection was, what was it like to have this new person coming in and telling people what to do? Emotionally that felt quite isolating and it is hard to connect with people because we were all not in the office.


What did you do after that situation – normally you would have had an informal debrief with your team or a catch up with a colleague?

If I started randomly video calling people it would have unnerved them and that would have been odd! I messaged my boss and got feedback to make sure I got the mood right.


Has there been value in showing the human side to you / non director version?

I don’t know just yet, it’s a good question and really interesting to think about. During my first 2 weeks with the organisation I sat and had coffee with people at the kitchen table in the office to get to know people.


My home situation is good, but for other people who are trying to work, they might be in a much more challenging situations so there is an unequal aspect that you have to consider.


What do you think will be different in how the Barnwood Trust engage and interact with beneficiaries?

We will have a deeper knowledge of their needs and who beneficiaries are will change too. This crisis has affected people so unpredictably. For example, people who were previously confident and would never have described themselves as being isolated, such as someone who is visually impaired and been living independently, but at the moment this is not possible. The Trust is there to support people with a variety of challenges, and people who previously wouldn’t need support now do.


National perceptions of disability within society have change too for the worse. Our views will become more medicalised. The social model of disability is a theoretical model that states that society disables people rather than their condition. The entire country is looking at people through a medical model right now. The shielding model based on people’s propensity to contract Covid-19 rather than people’s ability to follow social distancing. Sadly, I feel that Covid-19 will see us regress in some areas.


However, there are some very interesting areas where access to services online and medical care without arranging transport has seen a positive effect. Whatever the picture will be, it will be different and in some areas it will improve other areas it won’t.

What does your short- and long-term planning look like at the moment? How are you having to adapt and change?


We have just agreed our strategic planning cycle with the board. Timewise in the autumn we will start to look at the medium to long term strategy. Until then, we’ve put in place a planning process, that is a simple rolling plan. We have a one-page plan for each of our five strands to our Covid-19 response which we update weekly.


What has been your biggest impact in your role since starting?

That’s a hard question! I would say the biggest impact has been putting a simple idea out and not being afraid to do that.


Finally, what have been your reflections?

My reflection has been It’s been really hard and it’s difficult to know how you’re doing without interacting with people face to face regularly. We are building new structures and ways of working which is interesting but uncertain. Everyone is in a different place day to day so it can be difficult to find a style to fit every day, so my biggest reflection is to be flexible with my team and colleagues. Situational leadership is the name of the game!








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