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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

People want leaders who show vulnerability

This opinion piece is almost 10 years old

Jane Bruce, the director of Venture Scotland, has quit her job to become a Clore Social Leadership fellow. The second in a series of articles describes her first residential experience.

Jane Bruce, Clore Social Leadership fellow
Jane Bruce, Clore Social Leadership fellow

January can be a grim month so it felt like a considerable treat to spend the third week of 2014 on a residential as part of the Clore Social Leadership programme.

We were hosted by the RNLI college in Poole, Dorset and enjoyed a packed programme of training, speakers, group work and visits to social sector organisations.

Our schedule revolved around the Clore Social motto, "Know yourself, be yourself, look after yourself", and the recurring theme of authenticity in leadership was what hit home the hardest for me.

Henley Business School research suggests leaders regularly suppress a range of strengths they perceive as being inappropriate for people in leadership positions to show. These include supposedly soft qualities such as appreciation, humility, forgiveness and kindness.

And yet, research into the needs of so-called followers shows they want their leaders to be empathetic and to show a degree of vulnerability. In fact, leaders should be much more open about what they’re not good at.

Research into the needs of so-called followers shows they want their leaders to be empathetic and to show a degree of vulnerability.

This enables team members to fill the gaps and realise their own value to the mission.

Equally, it gives the team permission to raise a flag when their leader is doing that thing that they do that drives everyone nuts.

It all sounds a bit touchy feely I hear you say. But it was hard not to be won over when authenticity was the moral of the story of each inspirational leader we heard from on our residential.

We were challenged to “find a way of being true to yourself in all contexts” by Dame Mary Marsh, former chief executive of the NSPCC and founding director of the Clore Social Leadership programme.

“Stop trying to be the hero and ditch the messiah complex” said Liam Black, social entrepreneur and former head of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant chain.

The group of 18 fellows away in Poole were quick to adopt the Clore Social culture.

Entering a group of highly functioning individuals, I dreaded the potential for generally smug, self-important behaviour. Fortunately, we slipped into a different rhythm characterised by openness, fun and a humble curiosity for others.

All this resonated deeply with my experiences of working with vulnerable young people at Venture Scotland. I have enjoyed many amazing residentials in the wilds of Scotland when the challenges thrown up by the weather, an individual’s behaviour or a particular activity mean there is no alternative but to react using all the skills you have and with the best of intention.

Whether things have gone well or I’ve screwed up for all to see, I’ve gained respect for putting it all on the line. So the challenge going forward is to accept no imitations and be myself 100% – for in that my true potential lies.

And sadly, the Wonderwoman outfit has to stay firmly in the box too.