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Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

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4 Building your leadership experience

In Activity 4 in Week 1 of this course, you reflected on your leadership experience so far. No matter where you found yourself on the spectrum of experience, there is always more to learn!

There are many leadership-related opportunities you could explore, such as:

  • a.Joining a club or society: Volunteering for a committee position e.g. treasurer, chair, social secretary etc. will give you useful leadership experience.
  • b.Leading a local community project or campaign: Volunteering within your local community can help you to develop a wide range of leadership skills, particularly those related to interacting with people.
  • c.Organising a fundraising event or social gathering: The skills required to organise and run a successful event are extensive, from making decisions and planning, to relationship building and negotiating.
  • d.Mentoring or coaching someone: While this activity focuses on a specific element of leadership, it is a crucial one. Listening to people and helping them to develop are themes that you will encounter in many of the sections on this course.

Taking inspiration from these ideas, what could you do to enhance your own leadership experience?

A photograph shows a group of people pucking up litter.
Figure 5 Voluntary work is a great way to build up leadership skills

Activity 4 Developing your skills

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Consider the strengths and weaknesses you identified in Activity 3, and reflect on how you might fill any gaps. Use the box below to note ideas for possible projects or activities that will allow you to develop key leadership skills further, e.g. chair a working group; volunteer to give a presentation; organise an event.

As you consider your options, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I need to focus attention on a key area, e.g. interpersonal skills or negotiating experience?

What are the projects or activities that could allow me to build those skills e.g. fundraising for a local charity?

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Involving your mentor, manager or another leader who knows you in this exercise will be useful. They may suggest options you hadn’t considered or weren’t aware of.

If you found this exercise useful, you might want to use the GROW tool in your Toolkit [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . GROW stands for ‘Goal, Reality, Options, What will you do next?’, which will give you a framework to consider your actions in more detail.

Having a leadership mentor or coach within your organisation could be a very useful strategy. They can guide you towards useful experiences and potentially put your name forward. Find out if your employer already runs any relevant leadership development schemes – your Human Resources department should be able to advise. If they don’t, assess who within your organisation is the type of leader you would like to be and approach them for advice.

If you’d rather look outside your own organisation, or are not currently in work, join a relevant LinkedIn or other social network group and look out for someone who has interesting things to say about their own leadership experiences.

Top tips for finding a mentor include:

  • It must be someone with more experience than you.
  • It will be easier to build rapport if you choose someone you respect and who shares your values.
  • The relationship must be honest, so choose someone you trust to keep your conversations confidential.
  • Consider potential mentors inside and outside your organisation. If you’re looking outside, it might be someone you’ve met at a conference or other networking event.

So, who could be a good mentor for you?

Activity 5 Finding a mentor

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

In the box below, list individuals who you could approach for leadership advice or mentoring, either within your current organisation or elsewhere.

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Now prepare some key questions you would like to ask them, for example:

  • What are the key skills a good leader needs?
  • What do you wish you had known before taking your first leadership role?
  • Can you describe your path to leadership?
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Before requesting a formal mentoring relationship with someone, you might prefer to arrange an initial meeting to ask some informal questions and gauge whether they are the type of person you could work with. If not, you will still go away with some interesting insights. You could even ask them how they would approach finding a mentor – they may make some useful suggestions. If you don’t feel ready for a mentor yet, talk to all the people on your list and ask them your questions. Your research will be useful and you can then add them to your network of contacts.

Now you have some practical ideas about what you are going to do and who you are going to talk to, the next step is to ensure you make the time to reflect on these activities and therefore get the most from them. In Section 5, you’ll look at how to keep a leadership journal and why this can be beneficial.