Julia Middleton's thoughts on leadership

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Is the ‘glass ceiling’ surrounding female leaders moving?

March 8th, 2012 · 1 Comment

I was recently sitting on the top table next to a speaker at an event. The next speaker due to address those present sat on my right while the Chair was on my left.

At the last moment the Chair leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Would you mind terribly if I made a slightly sexist remark when I introduce you?”

I turned to the guy on my right due to follow me and said: “Our chair would like to know if you would mind terribly if he made a slightly racist joke when he introduces you?”

That shut the Chair up.

I know the world is changing. I can see it in my daughters and even more in my sons. But sadly it is not changing that fast.

Today is International Women’s Day, an event set up in the US in 1909 to both inspire women and celebrate their achievements.  Do you think that perspectives surrounding females and their abilities to lead are changing? Or are some old-fashioned attitudes so ingrained that they will never change?

This post is written by Julia Middleton, Founder and Chief Executive of Common Purpose. This post is also available on her blog: http://juliamiddleton.net

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Where’s the evidence for leading through motivation instead of fear?

November 17th, 2011 · No Comments

I did a talk on Leading Beyond Authority in Budapest today. Then had a dinner and walked back to my hotel along the Danube in beautiful weather. A young woman who had been in the audience ran after me. She was intelligent, thoughtful, together, direct, talented; I liked her immediately. She said she was from Kazakhstan. She tilted her head as we walked and said “Tell me, do you have any evidence that motivation works better than fear?” One hell of a question! She said that she believed it intuitively but that she had not seen any evidence because in Kazakhstan some leaders lead through fear and certainly seem to be successful. I gave her lots of answers that seemed obvious to me. The best to my mind was that I have not seen much innovation emanating from fear. But I didn’t really persuade her. She believed me but could see no evidence to support the belief. I told this story to a Russian this morning who said “To be a leader you must have the Tsar in you,” otherwise no one will respect you. So I leave Budapest a failure. Maybe I will find the right words to persuade her tonight, but it will be too late.

→ No CommentsTags: Insights · Leading Beyond Authority

A different generation of leaders

July 12th, 2011 · No Comments

I spoke at the start of a Frontrunner (our course for university students) specifically for disabled students, which we run in association with Santander. They were a hugely focused and dynamic group who were determined to work across disability and other organisations as leaders rather than stick to networks for people with their specific disability. They felt like a very different generation and I hope they are – one that is not interested in the noise, just the substance.

One young man came to tell me about a conference he had been to recently. To quote him directly, “there were so many rules on access that there remained almost nothing left to be accessed.”

They asked me masses of questions. Good ones, real ones, which you could not answer with one sound bite. In fact every answer I gave was untidy, especially the ones about prejudice. But I hope they were real answers that reflect real leadership, which is such a balancing act with very few absolutes.

→ No CommentsTags: Development · Intergenerational · Youth leadershiop

Should you encourage leaders for being brave?

July 7th, 2011 · No Comments

Should you encourage leaders for being brave? It rather highlights to them the reality that they are having to be brave.

I went to the House of Lords last night in my role as a trustee of the Media Standards Trust to support the launch of Hacked Off, a campaign to get a proper enquiry into phone hacking. The meeting was set up a while ago so you could say that after the announcement yesterday it was no longer needed, but of course that’s not true. It’s not just about getting an enquiry, it’s about getting the right enquiry, with the right brief and the right time scale. We can’t wait two years!

There were some great people there who have stood out from others in their bravery. And its real bravery – if the media does not like you, life can be very tough. But as we congratulated Chris Bryant, Max Mosley, John Prescott, Norman Fowler and many others, you could see some looking around nervously. Hugh Grant was there too, catapulting himself into this – I hope he keeps on being brave. I hope they all do.

This is about people in institutions losing sight of what they are about, people trying to act above the law, people doing unforgivable things to others, people who as leaders refuse to accept responsibility for what happens around them. If we duck this, and don’t help the brave to be brave, we are in trouble.

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Linking leaders together

June 28th, 2011 · No Comments

Dishaa (our Venture which connected leaders in the UK and India) was so successful, unbelievably successful, that we have been asked to launch similar Ventures between lots of countries around the world (see www.commonpurpose.org/ventures). Dishaa means direction in Hindi, so we will have Phambili (direction in the Nguni languages inc. Xhosa and Zulu), Dao Xiang (in Mandarin), Itijah (in Arabic) and more.

A Brit was complaining yesterday and telling me that they were hard words to pronounce. I think I lost a sale because all I could say is “get over it”. In fact, his starting point pins down the exact reason why many Brits need to wake up and book onto a Venture fast before we disappear into irrelevance (whilst muttering gently in English!).



 

→ No CommentsTags: Cultural differences · Development

Is there a difference between appointed & elected leadership?

May 16th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Appointed leaders know, but so often forget, how different it is for elected leaders. How normal behaviour resumes months after an election and ends months before one.

Listening to a friend reminded me why China seems to have halted in a trajectory just at the moment. It’s the ninth year, next year is the tenth and their election happens next year. As he said, don’t expect too much in the next two years!

What are your thoughts on the difference between appointed leadership and elected leadership?

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The need for leadership development during unemployment

April 19th, 2011 · 2 Comments

When I started work, I was very lucky. My first boss gave me opportunities to lead small teams from a very early age – to learn some of the lessons at an age when I could simply bounce back from my mistakes – to mess up when the stakes were not high – to succeed early and discover the pleasure of leading a hugely successful team full of people having fun – to discover that it’s the delight of watching others succeed around you that it the real delight. My first boss sent me on leadership development courses; some good, some less. I remember coming back from one of the later to debrief him about all that was wrong with it and he sent me back to do it again so I might analyse what was right just as well.

I learnt leadership, young and early. Not everyone is as lucky as I was but even if it’s not great, they are learning it.

So how are we going to ensure that the young people who are out of work in vast numbers in the UK get some of this important learning? Young people who are trying their level best to get work but failing who will be the leaders of the future but will miss out on some crucial years of learning.

Common Purpose can’t get people into jobs. But we can run our courses; courses which many employers pay fees for their young talent to attend; for the generation that might go without. So we’ve launched the Young Million campaign

→ 2 CommentsTags: Development · Intergenerational

Size or Systems – what gets in the way?

April 18th, 2011 · No Comments

Leaders are going mad. Mad with systems. Systems to check systems. Then systems to monitor the checking of systems.

Everyone assumes the public sector is the guilty one in the UK. I am not sure it’s about sectors – more about size.

Was visiting a huge global company, talking to the MD of a UK subsidiary. How many signatures do you think you need to authorise a capital expenditure payment (MD’s example was for a £67K item) which has already been authorised by the board? Multiple choice: 2, 5, 10, 15, 27?

Yes, you got it, 27. And they have to be done in sequence, in other words signatory 21 cannot sign before signatory 20 has done so.

As a leader how could you possibly inspire the income earners to make enough to cover such a bureaucracy?

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Levelling the leadership playing field

April 11th, 2011 · No Comments

Last week I was talking about the ability of senior leaders to inspire young leaders. I met a very senior person in the army today. Interesting.

Her view was that this is less of a problem in the army. For many predictable reasons. The one I did not know about is – which was almost counter intuitive to me – was that some things make the army a much more level playing field. Apparently whatever your age or rank everyone has to pass a 6 monthly medical test and an annual basic skills test on things like first aid and weaponry.

What would be the test at Common Purpose? If basic skills were IT – which is probably reasonable -  I would fail and have long ago been got rid of or sent back to school. Not that I am bad, but I know that I am not good enough. I am not sure that I would much want to do a test alongside all my colleagues in the knowledge that I could fail! I think that would produce a level playing field that I would not much like.

→ No CommentsTags: Development · Intergenerational

Technology & education in an ageing society – what role do we have to play?

April 6th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Been thinking a lot about the Channel 4 panel debate I was on last night with Lord David Puttnam, Charles Clarke, Trevor Phillips & Michelle Mitchell about older people and IT. There were loads of great people in the audience too, including John Best, former Chief Executive of Milton Keynes Council.

Lots of interesting discussion.

  • About the need for the infrastructure to serve all.
  • About the problems of paying higher bills if you are not on line.

Then there was fascinating post talk discussion.

  • About getting wi-fi free on council estates
  • About finding the app which fits old people and drives them on line in huge numbers (and not looking to institutions to develop it).

Then there was depressing discussion

  • About how having an older population means we have a greater proportion of people waiting for death. (I know what the audience member meant – that we should talk about death more openly – but surely we should accelerate to the end).
  • About wanting courses to get older people on line and forlornly saying that was unlikely with the budget cuts (when are we as a generation going to cotton on that real learning does not have to be done to you in a class room, that to learn IT you have to learn to play, and not just with the technology but with your ability to make your point in 140 characters and not five pages of A4)

But the lasting overnight thought is that we as a generation have somewhat messed up and handed on a pretty huge challenge to our successors and there we were demanding more. More inclusion, more courses, more apps, more and more and more. Had I been a young person in the audience last night I might have been a little tired of us.

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