Leading during challenging times

Karen Middleton reflects on what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught her and what she has learnt from others – about leading during a crisis

CSP CEO Karen Middleton
CSP CEO Karen Middleton

I thought that 2020 was the most difficult year in recent times for our profession, but 2021 was something else. The demands on leaders were relentless. 

This was, in part, due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic: leading through a crisis is difficult enough, but leading through a crisis that stretches out over two years is really tough. People are less forgiving of mistakes, less patient about the lack of solutions and peoples’ own tiredness and waning resilience means leaders are blamed more for what is going wrong.

But despite all this, I have heard about and seen some fantastic leadership in action and there seems to be some commonalities amongst these great leaders:

  • knowing the purpose – what is it we’re trying to do? Being able to articulate the vision for what we’re trying to achieve so that colleagues know what they’re all working together to deliver.
  • exhibiting understanding – in such an uncertain state of affairs, this is critical and is an element of compassionate leadership that we heard from Michael West about at vPUK this year.
  • being clear – bringing clarity or translating the complex into the simple so as to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.
  • agility – having a clear vision and plan but being able to adapt to the changing context.

And, of course, all these skills are required by all those who work in our profession and if they see them exhibited by our leaders, then they can copy what they see and how it’s done. 

And there’s one last element to sustainable good leadership and it’s the question I ask all leaders – how do you take care of yourself? Some will describe family and friends; others will talk about a coach or a mentor; and yet others tell me about an action learning set they are part of or a peer group that has been established following a leadership programme. 

Being kind to yourself is also about compassionate leadership and taking time to reflect on the year, your achievements and what you’ve learnt is all part of caring for self. Remember we’re all hard-wired to be self-critical, so, particularly at this time of year, stay with the positives!

I so hope all our members, wherever you work or study, get some time over the Christmas break to rest and recuperate and I thank you all for everything you have dealt with over this past year. 

I am sorry for using the term disabled in my November In Person column, when I should have used impairment. I am fully aware that disability is a social construct and I should have known better and I apologise for any hurt caused. Thank you to the member who brought this to my attention. 

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