The EdublogsClub prompt this week is Leadership. Writing this is a welcome relief because my mind is buzzing from my week at the Tate Exchange (an intensive Participatory Practice and Creative Exchange course).
Leadership is something I think about a lot, because for a long time it was the only work role I could aim for. I left school with very weak qualifications and went to work after a brief period of unemployment. The jobs I did were entry level office admin, call centre and retail. My one-to-ones with my managers always involved them saying they thought I should learn more with the goal to become a deputy team leader. In fairness, I was a deputy manager a few times and an acting team leader in an insurance company’s salvage team. I hated it. I never lasted more than four years in any company, I was always teased with promotions but they never came to anything – occasionally my job title would change and I’d feel special for a while then I’d be absorbed into another team and the person who replaced me would have an even better job title and a larger salary.
But I liked the staff development part of team leading. I liked talking to my team about their hopes and plans. I sometimes wondered if I was as bad as my managers, encouraging my team to increase their productivity under the guise of learning new skills and acting like I’m doing them a favour. As a few learning professionals read my blog, I would like to clarify that I am not dismissing the learning of new skills. I thoroughly enjoy learning new skills and I actively promote learning in every environment. In these roles I don’t believe I was giving people opportunities to learn new skills – they were learning new elements of our database, but the underlying methods were the same. I was just preparing them for their eventual redeployment.
It was in these jobs that I decided I wanted to work in education, or in local government (anywhere with a recognised trade union, really!). It took me years to get my first job in education. In the meantime, I worked in lots of different temporary administration roles. When I got my first college job in 2011 I was so excited. I didn’t have anything to do with my manager as she was on leave, but the senior administrator in the hair and beauty department oversaw me. I remember him fondly.
And the thing that I think made him a great leader was that he gave me a chance. He read my CV, saw I had no relevant experience but that I wanted to work in a college. And he thought he’d invite me in so I could get some experience. He knew my role would be temporary but he wanted me to be able to apply for another college job and say I have experience in this sector.
We all have different ideas about what traits make people great leaders. It changes with each individual. But someone who believes in me, when I have no belief in myself, lifts me up. They inspire me. Some would argue that being a soft touch doesn’t make someone a great leader – I could have very easily been a terrible employee – after all, I did not have any way to prove I’d work well in an educational setting. But my colleague took a risk. That risk is the reason why I am here in university now. I am capable – I just needed someone to give me a chance.
A few years later I got my job in the alumni office. The same thing happened again. My department director saw my enthusiasm in my CV. I was invited in as a casual member of staff to help out with the office administration. I am still in that office. I am very lucky in my role as I believe my department director is the epitome of great leadership; firstly she believes in people but she also shares her knowledge with the team and cares about what she does. I am doing the most junior role in the office but I can go to her with anything. My suggestions and ideas are always listened to, and even though I have no experience in many areas I do get asked for my opinions.
The University of Brighton Students’ Union leadership election is happening this term. I’ve written my manifesto (but I don’t think it will be viewable for a couple of months so come back in March). I stood in the last by-election and you can read my previous manifesto here if you’d like a laugh 🙂
I wonder if I’m cut out for leadership. But what makes a good leader? Look at some of the leaders we have in the world and I’m certain I’m not like them (there’ll be no p***y grabbing from me). If I am to become a leader I’d like to think I’ll be like my department director or my colleague from my first college job. I want to make people love where they are studying, I want them to see that there are opportunities for them (without hidden agendas) and I want people to say “Step aside Nina, I want to be the next leader”. Because if I cannot pave the way for others, I’m not the type of leader I want to be.