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Fran Parkinson: Leading through challenging times


The Covid-19 pandemic has been a time of unprecedented change and the world, as we know it, has shifted. 

Leaders and managers have had to deal with phenomenal challenges as they steer their businesses, organisations and teams through unchartered waters.  How do we, as leaders and managers, remain resilient and motivate our teams whilst we are dealing with the pressures created by the pandemic?

Learning the hard way

When I began managing business centres 10 years ago, I hadn’t had the benefit of a business course or management training. I had progressed a career route from administration.  Being frank about it, I lacked confidence in my own abilities as a leader. 

Even though I was clearly capable and competent, having successfully organised and coordinated a number of projects, my own sense of inadequacy impacted the way I led. This had a direct impact on how I related with those around me and led my teams.

This is an experience commonly shared by many business owners. The businesses we support may have started their venture in their back bedrooms.  As an entrepreneur and business owner you can be a jack of all trades and running every area of the business alone.  You know your business and you know how you want to run it.

Hiring staff can be daunting. How can you be sure they will deliver the same standards and quality you demand from your business? Learning to delegate, trust and let go is a skill in itself.

My management style as a new manager was mainly dictatorial and non-collaborative, leading to frustrations all round. I was unwilling to delegate and let go and I found it hard to express myself.  This often meant I held onto too much responsibility and workload along with all the consequent pressures that brings.  I didn’t really know what it meant to be a good leader back then.  I thought collaboration was a sign of weakness, but actually the opposite is true.

Growing in leadership

Understanding what it really means to be a leader and manager and learning techniques and approaches for leadership can be life transforming.  Leeds Beckett University recognises the importance of these skills. As a professional CPD provider at the forefront of training delivery, the University believes that leadership can be developed and people can become better leaders and managers.

The Leeds Business School Leadership Centre delivers accredited training to develop confident, capable and imaginative leaders, who can inspire, motivate and successfully lead the businesses and teams they work with.

Attending the ILM Leadership and Management, Levels 3 and 5, helped me to recognise that I wasn’t alone in my struggles as a leader. Impostor syndrome is encountered by many leaders, battling with self-doubt and lack of confidence, despite those around them recognising their abilities and strengths.

I was surprised how many other leaders were experiencing similar challenges and that in fact I was the norm rather than the exception! Through the courses I learned we can change, grow and develop as leaders, we are not alone in thinking we are alone, and it is possible to change and shift your mindset.

Mentoring and peer to peer learning are powerful tools for leadership growth.  During the past two years I have been working with an excellent Leeds Beckett mentor which has really helped me to develop confidence in myself as a leader.  I don’t shy away from confrontation, but I have learned there are ways to challenge without undermining other people’s confidence and abilities. 

I have recognised the importance of visibility as a leader and working through challenges in a supportive and collaborative way.

I have understood the importance of taking a step back to gather all the information required to make a decision rather than being consistently reactive.  There is a strength in learning to pause when under pressure, holding steady and taking time to understand all sides of an argument before making decisions. 

Of course, there are also situations which call for quick decisions and I have learned to trust my own judgement and experience at these times.  It is very important as a leader to build that sense of inner strength and resilience so that you are not capitulating to peer pressure and standing strong in your convictions.

This kind of leadership is essential when dealing with the challenges and difficult decisions that the Covid-19 pandemic has created.  It takes strength, determination and a commitment to seeing your business or organisation through tough times and recognising that you are not in it alone.  Reach out to your team or tribe around you. 

Don’t just rely on yourself. Acknowledge, recognise and utilise their strengths, experience and skills. Learn to become vulnerable whilst also taking responsibility for your leadership position. Stay humble and always be willing to learn.      

In essence I am growing as a leader and will continue to do so.

Investing in leadership

Leeds Beckett University is committed to developing the next generation of leaders and managers.  There has never been a better time to take advantage of the opportunities available to develop your leadership skills.  Leeds Business School is delivering a number of CPD programmes for business leaders.

Currently there is 40% funding available for accredited ILM training programmes and the Higher Performing Workplaces (HPW) programme, which offers training that is designed to help SME’s grow their internal talent.  HPW is managed by the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges and funded by the European Social Fund (ESF).

The Leeds Business School is also delivering the Small Business Leadership Programme, as part of a consortium of business schools accredited by the Small Business Charter SBC, and supported by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy which is helping businesses to survive and thrive beyond Covid.

The programme specialises in helping build resilience, leadership confidence and effectiveness and boosting productivity and agility.  The fully funded programme is open to decision makers in SME’s based in England and consists of a series of webinars and peer to peer sessions, which enable joint learning and growth to take place.

The practical nature of the series and opportunities for growth attracted Harriet Knowles, Director at PR and communications company Counter Context, to the course.  She states:

“At the point in my career when I’m taking on more responsibility for business strategy and management, the opportunity to take part in the Small Business Leadership Programme could not have come at a better time. With a busy team to manage, I was looking for a course to equip me with practical approaches and thinking to help address some key business challenges and realise opportunities for growth.

“The key course themes of resilience, innovation and leadership are especially pertinent at the minute. We have had to pivot our business to adapt to the challenges Covid presented and I’m certain we will need to continue to champion innovation and agility to meet our aspirations for growth. I’m confident the new skills I’m learning on the Small Business Leadership Programme will help our business on that journey.”

The resilience and growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Leeds City Region is being further developed by building the leadership skills, capabilities and opportunities of women. Led by a team of academic experts alongside professional development specialists from Leeds Business School’s Leadership Centre the #WECAN (Women Empowered through Coaching And Networking) project is a three-year collaboration that will increase the skills and opportunities for women. 

By identifying and maximising the untapped potential of women in SMEs the project aims to improve outcomes in the region through collaborative working and knowledge exchange, increasing productivity and boosting the local economy.

Fran Parkinson is the Operations Manager at the University Business Centres, Leeds Beckett University. Photo credit: Charles Waller Photography.

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