This article showcases five of the ten tips in a guide to effective leadership on Community Care Inform. The guide is written by Tony Nakhimoff, who runs TNC Enterprises, a consultancy specialising in change, transformation and organisational development. Subscribers can find the full guides as well as other resources on the management hub on Inform Children and Inform Adults.
Many aspects of team management require you to support social workers with day-to-day issues and be accountable for the detail of practice. But try picturing management on an operational level as just one part of the role, with inspiration, strategy, influence and vision as equally important aspects. This can help you move towards being leader who brings those qualities and that thinking to all parts of your job, motivating and enabling higher performance so that your team achieves better outcomes for service users.
1. Be strong
Leaders have to recognise that it can be tough – and lonely – in a management position. You are held accountable for your team’s failures, as well as successes. There will be times when it doesn’t seem to be going right and you’ll wonder whether the super tanker will ever start to turn round. That’s when you have to be strong, because everybody else will be looking at you and to you.
You also have to recognise that you won’t please everybody, so be prepared to face criticism and resistance. Focus clearly on your goals and keep a sense of perspective. Remember, being strong does not necessarily mean being authoritarian! Be assertive instead.
2. Be open
Leadership is about being inclusive and involving everybody in the team or group. Talk to people, and make sure you actually listen to what they say and feed it into your plans. Involve staff in the key decisions wherever possible, and explain to them when it’s not possible – and why it’s not.
Be open to criticism and be prepared to accept when things genuinely aren’t going right. This will save you time in the long run (as you might then decide to make changes that weren’t in your plan) and help your team trust that you are genuinely listening to them. Effective leaders are always there for their staff, and ensure that their staff know that they are always there.
3. Be sure
To make good decisions and stick to them, leaders need good information and data, so that they can be sure of the results that will flow from their decisions. As well as gathering quantitative data (from systems), gather qualitative information based on the opinions and views of staff. Draw on the general themes that come up in supervision and informal discussions and then ask questions help ensure that you are getting to the nub of the issue.
Beware of ‘experts’ (either specialists in particular areas or seasoned practitioners) who may be very insistent that you should see things from their point of view, when the evidence may actually point in another direction. Be proactive in ensuring you listen to all members of the team (not just those who ‘shout the loudest’) so you are sure of the issues from all points of view. Remember, as well as being sure, you must be fair.
4. Be inspirational
Leaders need to constantly motivate and inspire their people. You have to set a good example through hard work, dedication and integrity. A positive and enthusiastic frame of mind is essential for those tough times and when working with people who are unsure of whether the direction of travel is right – or even possible. You have to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. Being inspirational doesn’t mean ignoring processes or management techniques, it involves thinking critically and not getting hung up on them – every situation is different and requires a different approach. Do what seems right to you at the time.
5. Be clear
Communication is the number one skill for an effective leader. Leaders have to get other people to do things, to do different things or to do things differently – and the only way to make this happen is to communicate.
You have to keep everybody informed, which requires different forms of communication at different times and in different ways – for example, for your team or senior managers or other agencies. It may sound obvious but make sure you know the people that you need to speak to about particular issues so that you can communicate with them clearly and effectively.
Use the appropriate language for each situation to avoid confusing people (at best) or turning them off (at worst). Try and reduce issues to the simplest way of explaining them at first; it’s important that your team know you understand the reality of making changes to practice but explain that there will be communication about this too, after a quick and clear overview.