Leading Beyond Authority

by Julia Middleton

Step by step or leaps and bounds?

Do you need to progress circle by circle? In some ways, that helps, so that you take sensible steps outwards. Don’t do it in one big bound. Julia Cleverdon, Chief Executive of Business in the Community, says: ‘Do it in small incremental steps.’ Circle by circle.

This brings to mind a conversation with Dame Gill Morgan, who is Chief Executive of the NHS Federation. She is concerned about the challenges in the health sector for people who make the leap in one go – from local doctor to the non-executive chair of a Health Trust, for example – and are thrown very much into the deep end of leadership. I think the steps need to be incremental – but they must not be too cautious. They just need to be well judged.

Sometimes jumping a stage is welcome. A friend was UK chairman of a huge global company. While still there, he also became chair of an international charity. He talks of the relief when he leapt right out to the very outer ‘society’ circle. He had spent so much time and effort leading beyond authority within the huge and complex organisation he knew and loved that he had become exhausted by it. When he moved to the outer circle, he was expecting worse and, for him, it was a huge relief.

On the whole, though, it’s worth going circle by circle. James Ramsbotham is Chief Executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce. He agrees that there is value in moving carefully and accumulating learning as you go. But he makes a very important point about the progression and what it does for the leaders who do it successfully: ‘As you keep going out of your core circle, and you get better at it, your circles expand, too. As you progress within your organisation, your core circle gets bigger, often because you have got better at negotiating your way around the other circles.’