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Paula McGoveney

Published on: Thursday 27th February 2020

Authored by Paula McGoveney

Head of Public Fundraising


How to Empower Future Leaders

‘If You Permit It, You Promote It’ - How to Empower Future Leaders

In May of this year, I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at Windsor Leadership's Diversity and Inclusion workshop.   As always an insightful and inspiring day, the wonderful Vijaya Nath @VijayaNath1, Trustee of Windsor Leadership shared a simple, one line quote which has remained with me ever since…

’If You Permit It, You Promote It’.

In terms of inclusion and diversity the meaning of this to me is quite evident. However I have pondered on this in the wider leadership context and how this is relevant to how we empower future leaders.

If you permit and encourage yourself to be an effective and empowering leader, you are promoting this mindset in others. If you permit emerging leaders to truly lead (by not stifling their decisions, not competing with their achievements and letting them take educated risks) you are promoting their leadership abilities. Another more common expression is you are ‘leading by example’.

Here are the practical steps I think we could all take to empower future leaders and ‘permit’ them to lead. These are elements I have found useful in my leadership journey and certainly points I try to instigate myself.

Practical steps to support future leaders

  • Help to get them ready to lead BEFORE they are in a position of leadership.

It is certainly common in the third sector that people are given a new leadership role or promotion without having been prepared for leadership. Yes they will have earned the opportunity but they are not always guided through the techniques and mindset of leadership. Managers are often given access to a wider range of training particularly around leadership but this training is often only available to those already in a position of management or leadership. We should also be offering this leadership training to those individuals who have the potential to become our future leaders so that when an opportunity to lead becomes available they are more prepared to take on the challenge. It may mean those individuals move on to another organisation to develop their leadership careers but the alternative is an unhappy workforce or a member of staff who is not ready to lead being ‘thrown in at the deep end’.

  • Assist them to identify a mentor and become a mentor yourself

For those just starting in leadership, it can sometimes feel a little daunting to approach a leader who inspires you and ask them to be your mentor. There may also be individuals who aren’t sure what they would gain from having a mentor or don’t feel they have the time to find one. However, we need to be encouraging them to do this as much as possible. Not only will it give them access to the wider picture of leadership, it will help them network, build their profile amongst their peers and future peers and shape their leadership style. Alongside this we should be acting as mentors ourselves so we can help to spread the leadership message and empower the future leaders that may one day work for our organisations. We all need strong leadership mentors and inspiration to continue to grow.  

  • Give them the space to lead and don’t stifle their progression in the meantime
  • Encourage risk taking, allow failure and don’t play the blame game

Whilst these points can stand alone they really come hand in hand. It can be difficult to be a leader without the autonomy to do so and the space to be allowed to take risks or make mistakes. Assuming you believe you have identified a future or emerging leader with the potential to really grow into leadership you need to give them the opportunity to do so. Monitoring and questioning every decision they make will not allow them to develop and grow their confidence. It will also give the message to their team that you are not confident in their leadership and will encourage them to question their leader’s authority. Allowing some failure and risk taking (obviously within reason and manageable risk) will help them to learn as well as giving you the opportunity to see how they respond to challenges as a new or potential leader. If mistakes do happen, try not to feed a culture of blame or take over. Work with them to establish a constructive way forward that allows them to take ownership and responsibility as well as giving them the opportunity to build their leadership skills at the same time. 

  • Offer coaching as part of the training mix

One of the most valuable sessions, courses or training I have experienced in my career has been coaching. Having this offered as a standard part of staff development plans would be a great way of helping future leaders identify their goals and ambitions, empowering them to take responsibility for their actions and becoming more self-reliant. It also demonstrates to these future leaders that we are committed to their development and are keen to promote staff engagement.  

  • Celebrate success like you mean it!

It’s true to say it can feel lonely at the top but it can also feel lonely getting there. Big wins, however they may be forged in your business, are easier to celebrate (and I certainly hope you do!) but everyday success is not often recognised when you’re at or near the top. I remember when I first became a leader this was one of the things I struggled with. A need for recognition I was doing a decent job without wishing to appear ‘needy’ or ‘insecure’ alongside an imposter syndrome (which does occasionally still pop up!). We should remember how it can feel when you first become a leader and remember to recognise the everyday efforts of our new leaders. This doesn’t mean congratulating them every day for tiny things you struggle to think of but acknowledging that being a new leader can be hard and it doesn’t go amiss to say ‘well done’ or ‘thank you’ at appropriate points along their journey (and not just waiting for the next ‘big win’).

Having worked my way up through the ranks in the charity sector for the last 20 years, I have experienced some good leaders – although sadly not as many as I would have hoped for – and been witness to some bad leaders. Some say you learn more from a bad situation than a good one. I’m not sure I agree as I have learnt equally from both good and bad leaders.

One thing that is evident is that middle management is often the hardest place to be and without the right support to emerge as a leader it can be hard to move through that stage in your career.

If not given the autonomy to make the decisions that count it can feel like ‘piggy in the middle’ management and lead to ineffective leadership from all angles. I believe empowering our future leaders by making sure they are prepared, giving them the autonomy to make decisions, the trust to deliver their strategies and the opportunity to learn can lead to the emergence of effective future leaders for us all.




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