• 10 Aug 2017

Starting with Why: Clore Social Leadership Fellowship 2017

Joanna McCreadie, Chief Executive, Seamab

Joanna McCreadie is the Chief Executive of Seamab, a charitable organisation that provides care and education for vulnerable children, and a Clore Social Leadership Fellow. Supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Clore Social Leadership Programme aims to identify, develop and connect aspiring leaders in the wider social sector who are working for the benefit of individuals and communities across the UK. In her guest blog, Joanna reflects on the vital connections between authenticity, trust and leadership.

In late 2016 I received the news that I had been awarded a specialist Youth Social Justice Clore Fellowship supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Although I have been leading services for a number of years, I knew the Fellowship would be a unique and challenging experience. Thinking about getting started was exciting – but if I’m honest, I also had some fears about such a new and different experience.

I arrived in Poole for the first residential in January. Before the residential we each had to prepare our own golden circle – what we do, how we do it and why we do it. The idea of the golden circle was developed by Simon Sinek (his inspiring Ted Talk is worth viewing for anyone with an interest in leadership). As each Fellow stood up, faced the giant timer and presented their golden circle, themes started to emerge.

The social causes owned by the Fellows are hugely varied. But, every individual was passionate, committed and could articulate their what, how and why. Every individual shared a vision for social justice, whatever the group they represented. All shared the excitement and fears about becoming a Clore Social Leadership Fellow.

It’s not often in our lives as leaders that we have the opportunity to engage and work with peers as true equals. Often we’re competing for resources, position and achievements. Working out and presenting our individual golden circles meant the Fellowship began with all of us sharing not just what we customarily talk about (qualifications, this job, last job) but what motivates and inspires us. This wasn’t easy. It made me reflect on how we can become immersed in tasks, demands and expectations and lose touch with the why that drives our work.

The why that drives and motivates each of us matters because it is also, I think, what makes each of us authentic as leaders. That authenticity is vital, as this is what convinces others to accept and work with our leadership. It’s also what helps us persuade and influence people to support us, and our work. With an authentic why, we can build trust. Others believe in who we are, and therefore, in the work we are doing. While the work might be specialist and complex, if people connect with why, then they will understand and engage with the cause.

Those initial fears about the Fellowship dissipated for me in the opening session. Instead I felt connected to the group and inspired by our shared passion and commitment to social justice. From that first challenge, trust started to develop and grow in each other, the 2017 Fellowship Group, and also in our own authenticity as leaders. It’s this trust in each other, and in ourselves that I think is critical to how we change and develop as leaders through the experiences of the Fellowship and, of course, work towards achieving our why.