Posted by:8 June, 2012
It has been exciting and enjoyable working with social enterprises that have developed out of the public sector over the last few years; one of the reasons for this has been down to the people involved and their passion for what they do. There is no doubt that leadership styles of different Managing Directors have been different, as one might expect, but there have also been some similar characteristics or traits on show and a passion for what they do is one of these. I think it is useful to understand what makes these leaders tick for a number of reasons - not least that it helps those who have some doubts about the ability of social enterprises to deliver, to be successful and to be business-like. It’s easy - really easy, to say that social enterprises will find it difficult to compete with the red in tooth and claw private sector or the big bad and ugly FTs and that they lack business acumen but its much, much more, difficult to say such things when you really take the time to get to know these leaders and what they are driving their organisations on to do at the moment. Let’s take a quick look at what these people - these leaders - are like.
Learning from your peers
Despite the fact that a number of these social enterprises are potential competitors with each other for some areas of work, a number of them have stayed in close contact with each other - and continued to learn from one another. They have been to workshops and updates on relevant topics and shared their experiences. Perhaps this spirit of cooperation goes back to their roots within the public sector, where collaboration is important and learning from and mixing with your peers in other organisations is a key to better performance and assurance - although this is not something that can be an everyday occurrence because of busy lives. Further, training and education funding have become tighter within the public sector over the last few years, with commissioners shown little support on occasion for cross-region thinking and other area, as they themselves struggled to develop their own commissioning intentions. This willingness to collaborate however, shown by the social enterprises in a competitive market, illustrates just how strong and confident some of these leaders are. Not only are they clearly going after new business, in some instances they are going after it together, with new contracts sought after and tendered for. Further, such organisations with their full boards, including independent non-executive directors, should be well equipped with all the necessary skills to fight their corner.
People like working with people they get on with and these collaborative relationships are often built up on the back of mutual respect and trust, so it is interesting to look further into what motivates these leaders - what is it about them that makes them successful and interesting to others? What is it about their characteristics or qualities that attracts and enables them to interface and work with others, win new business and survive and thrive in the difficult business climate in which we find ourselves?
Not Shifting Your Values
I saw a review of a new book by Clayton Christensen recently called “How will you measure your life?” Sounds a little sentimental I admit, but this author and businessman has a keen track-record. In his book, Clayton looks at how to lead a life of happiness and integrity, from which three characteristics struck me about his thoughts when seeing this review. Firstly, it came across that one needed some ability to be able to flex in our lives and go with some different things if some matters are not working; leaders certainly need to be able to do that. Secondly, focussing on achieving objectives, such as specifically allocating resources consistent with your strategy, nurturing and developing relationships that will support you through your life and understanding what the people you love want from you, and devoting time and energy to supplying it is key. Thirdly, there are some principles that you will need to stick with whatever happens, such as, according to Clayton, building a healthy family structure and avoiding “marginal thinking”, that may lead you down the path of moral concessions; that is, doing small things which you are not comfortable with but which could lead to bigger things.
The theme of the importance of values for leaders is picked up by other writers. James W Cook for example talks about the importance of not shifting your values and beliefs. He refers to thinking through what sort of person you are, what matters most to you, what are the key truths, values, lessons and he counsels summarising them, writing them down, checking them and sticking to them.
Retaining Balance and having Space to Think
I discussed with John Niland, the MD of Central Essex Community Services Community Interest Company, these sorts of concepts and how they impacted on him, including what was important to him. In order to retain balance in his life John told me that he needs to have time away from the desk-job. He needs a life outside work, involving for example, the family, running and the allotment - the latter of which he had just completely dug up when I caught up with him. This “out of work” time does however, impact positively back at the office. It gives John space and time to reflect and think through current issues and where he and the organisation are going with them. Sometimes the impact of this reflection is to “freak” John out and his reaction to this is to sit down and work out what has to be done, perhaps discussing the issues through with a mentor. Then he sets in train potentially several actions that need to start happening, which helps John wrest control back into his hands.
The Importance of the Team
The issue of being in control is important to a leader. It seems like it is a constant source of worry. What do you do rather than others? What should you let go - and if you do, will you struggle to get them back if you need to? One of the key issues here is having the right people behind you and having trust in them that they will perform. The leader needs the right people around him but also those people need the right people around them too. John commented on the need for that team to go away together, and let off some steam and connect.
In his recent article on ‘Integrated Care and why the NHS needs more deviant leaders’, Chris Ham was commenting on Ken Kizer, who led the transformation of the Veterans Health Administration in the US in the 1990s. Chris commented that on taking up his post, Ken moved quickly to shape a new vision, agree a new structure to help implement that vision and ensured the right people were in place to make it happen. A process or methodology not too disimilar to the way in which John has worked out how he operates at his best.
On the issue of having good team-work, James Cooke is clear - we have to trust our key managers and to delegate far more completely and competently; what is imperative for the leader to do and what is not? If leaders do not get that right then there is less time to spend on those areas that particularly need attention, such as relationships, dealing with the realities of any organisation at that particular moment, cutting unnecessary costs, sorting the cash out and communicating well.
The Driving Force
At the end of it all, I think there is one factor that stands out when you are looking into what drives the leaders of these new social enterprises - the desire to do what they do, but better. As John Niland said to me, all the leaders of these organisations may be different but they have a common streak - they are determined to do what they do, better. These sentiments are echoed by Lynne Woodcock, the managing director of Anglian Community Enterprise CIC who said that, for her, its about continually improving the quality of services to the local community, and the measure for this for Lynne is whether or not she would trust her organisation to deliver that care to her family. These desires - these goals, are huge motivators and make for incredibly determined MDs.
Chris Brophy is a partner with Capsticks, specialising in commercial and contractual work for healthcare bodies,social enterprises, mutuals and charities.