Session 3: Values-led leadership

October Gallery, 27 February 2018

Our third CLC session turned traditional notions of leadership on their head, focusing on why having, holding and conveying clear values was a key part of great leadership.

The session was anchored by a powerful, contemplative talk by Sue Hoyle, who focused on ‘quiet leadership’ – the kind of leadership that, in many ways, doesn’t look, sound or feel like most people’s notion of leadership at all.

Sue is former Deputy Director-General of Arts Council England, former Executive Director of The Place, and most recently Director of the Clore Leadership Programme, among other influential positions with influential organisations. For this and other leadership at the very forefront of British cultural life, Sue was awarded an OBE.

Stereotypical ideas of leadership never sat comfortably with Sue, and before her talk the group unpicked some of these. Summed up, we felt that society’s current notion of leadership applies to individuals who are visible, vocal, even aggressive champions of a vision that they find ways to repeat and act upon, time and time again. ‘Too often, it seems that if you’re not shouting, you’re not leading,’ was one apposite comment.

It never worked quite this way for Sue. ‘You can get a lot done if you don’t mind who gets the credit,’ she said. ‘For me, it was never about the praise; the important thing is that it happens.’

In many ways, Sue’s leadership journey has been driven by precisely the kind of thinking that we’ve promoted through CLC. She distilled her notion of effective leadership into four broad ideas:

  1. ‘You need to know yourself; what your values are, what you stand for. Integrity has to be a thread that has to run through how you deal with people and the choices you make. As a leader, you are enough. You don’t have to be anything else.’
  2. Build relationships. As a leader, you’re empathetic, you’re collaborative, and you look for synergies across your school and beyond.’
  3. ‘Every leader has to have a sense of civic responsibility. You take and stand by really difficult decisions. You know that saying ‘no’ to one thing creates the possibility of saying ‘yes’ to something else.’
  4. ‘Leaders are change-makers in a world that doesn’t stand still. That means you need to make space for critical thinking and reflection. Leadership isn’t always about doing.’

Throughout her career, Sue said she found in dance – her artistic passion – particularly, most of the values and qualities she tried to evince as a leader:

  • Adaptive capacity
  • Resilience
  • Ability to read situations and take decisions
  • Commitment and dedication
  • Courage, and a sense of adventure
  • Discipline combined with flexibility
  • Curiosity
  • Openness to risk
  • Humility
  • Willingness to collaborate
  • Generosity
  • Humility

After Sue’s talk, through small group discussions we sought to align her ‘quiet leadership’ ideas with our own experience and came up with some further essentials (along with some caveats and conundrums). We agreed that good leaders:

  • Recognise good ideas in others and can bring them out (‘…but sometimes as a leader, you just have to decide things. If you’re always opening it to the floor, people might wonder what you’re there for.’)
  • Bring together good people and manage their time and energy well (‘…though I worry that more time as a leader means less time with students. I don’t know how to think about that.’)
  • Have clear values yet are flexible thinkers who can compromise when necessary to make things happen (‘…though if you’re not brave, no one’s going to follow you.’)

We finished the session by circling back to values and qualities of leadership, adding to Sue’s list words like fun, humour, honesty and authenticity. Above all, there were hard questions asked – and which we left pondering – about how we live our values in the context of the manifold pressures on schools and teachers, not least in the arts. ‘We preach a certain value to our students, but when Ofsted comes, we suddenly sweep those values aside and tick their boxes,’ one of us said.

Sue concluded that perhaps the most important aspect of strong leadership, quiet or otherwise, was to ‘be sure of what you stand for.’

Key learning

  • It is critical, as a cultural leader (or any leader), to be clear about your purpose and your own ‘line in the sand’ when it comes to values.
  • Find your fans: know what inspires those around you, and ensure that inspiration remains live and useful.
  • Constant relationship-building is essential to relevant and connected leadership, which also means constant communication and transparency.