Leadership challenges in turbulent times
Leadership challenges in turbulent times

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Leadership challenges in turbulent times

1.2 Step 2: Prioritising leadership challenges

As you saw in the previous section, the first step can lead to a long list of complex challenges facing the organisation. All organisations have limits on their resources in terms of money, materials, equipment and people. Often organisations, such as Family, which address some of the most serious challenges facing society, have very limited resources. They therefore need to prioritise their challenges.

Described image
Figure 3 How do you prioritise challenges?

What you can afford to do is clearly one of the ways to prioritise, but this rarely solves the issue of which particular challenge to prioritise. Leaders therefore need other frames that will help them prioritise. The next activity will help you identify how an organisation approaches prioritisation.

Activity 2 Setting priorities

Timing: Allow 20 minutes

Watch Amanda Griffith, Chief Executive Officer of Family for Every Child, explain Family’s approach to prioritisation.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Skip transcript: Video 2

Transcript: Video 2

[TEXT ON SCREEN: Dealing with Leadership Challenges]

CAROL SHERRIFF:
So, when you started talking about huge issues like child trafficking, drug abuse I guess both children and the adults around them. Those are such complex issues. Now, leaders clearly always face challenges, that is part of the job but, what have you learnt, or maybe how do you approach such big issues?
AMANDA GRIFFITH:
I think one of the things is focus. You can’t do everything. So, the crucial thing is actually working out where can you really effect change. So, for Family what we looked at is many international agencies will look at working with the UN system or they’ll look at changing national legislation. What we recognise was since we’re made up of practitioners, so those directly working with families and children, where we can add most value is talking to other practitioners. So, looking at change in practice with other practitioners, be those professionals like social workers, or judges, magistrates, or whether it’s others running similar services. So, that means we’ve got an immediacy about what we develop and know what others are looking for, so the value add is quite immediate.
But the other crucial thing I think is also recognising what are the drivers that are leading to the situation. So, often responses will be going in to solving the situation, so the child is on the street, what do you do? But then you have a revolving door, you never change the situation. So, the crucial thing is actually to look at, so what are the drivers that are causing the situation you want to avert.
And those are often quite complex, you know, families by nature are relatively dysfunctional. It’s just the degree of dysfunctionality and complexity that you’re looking at. So, how do you identify where there are high risk families. And then what are the interventions you can bring which means that no child ever ends up leaving the family unless it’s absolutely in their best interests.
CAROL SHERIFF:
So, you want focus, who’s the most appropriate people to work with.
AMANDA GRIFFITH:
Where do you value add.
CAROL SHERRIFF:
Value add. And then what are the drivers.
AMANDA GRIFFITH:
So, you can prevent.
CAROL SHERRIFF:
Yes. Also, you can intervene and act. Fantastic.
Now you’ve already mentioned this, particularly for children and young people there’s a fabulous array of big issues that they can’t entirely, you know, act upon themselves. So, how does Family prioritise? How do you decide?
AMANDA GRIFFITH:
Out of all of those issues what we’re going to work on?
CAROL SHERRIFF:
Yes, exactly.
AMANDA GRIFFITH:
So, I think we’ve got a really clear sense of our own identity, our values. So, we’ve defined ourselves as one, an agile pioneering organisation but also one that actually wants to be slightly disruptive. So, changing the traditional and things. So, we’ve gone for saying, therefore we will talk on taboo subjects, things that others aren’t talking about. Or we will talk about issues that are not currently on the agenda.
So, for example, there’s a lot of focus on foster care and adoption. Mainly because it’s more straightforward to work with the State system than it is with the informal system. But we’ve said, actually 80% of the children are in kinship care if they’re not with their direct family. So, that’s where you need to direct services.
That’s much more complicated. Because, you know, there’s no way of finding it, it not formalised in any way. But for us it’s about highlighting where others are not looking really and bringing new issues or else bringing new knowledge. So, the crucial reason why we work with local, indigenous civil society organisations is they’ve been working for 25, 90 years whatever on these issues but their knowledge tends to stay within their organisation.
So, what we’re trying to do is actually capture that knowledge, document it and then disseminate it much more widely so that people can really learn about what actually has already worked within a cultural context within an understanding of that social and political environment.
So, I think that’s what we’ve tried to do is bring new knowledge or else sort of be highlighting issues that others haven’t yet.
CAROL SHERRIFF:
And that idea of disruptive and taboo subjects. That’s really, really interesting. Can you give an example of being disruptive or a taboo subject?
AMANDA GRIFFITH:
OK. So, currently we’ve done a whole piece of work about sexual violence. And now that’s very topical. Lots of people are talking about violence at the moment and particularly sexual violence. But the main focus is on girls. And so what we’ve done is a whole piece of work on understanding when sexual violence happens to boys.
And what are the interventions and what are the assumptions that are made about boys. And very often it is ... Often it’s not seen as a particular issue. The boys aren’t believed. Or because it’s so taboo for a boy to have had maybe some sort of homosexual act they won’t actually say to people this is what’s happened to me.
So, in actual fact there’s mechanisms that are in place to respond to girls. They’re not all there by any chance. Nobody is saying that it’s not important to still focus on sexual violence on girls but the focus on boys has not been there at all. So, there’s a real need to bring their issues and their understanding so that we’re providing holistic services that responds to the situation for boys as well as girls.
CAROL SHERRIFF:
So, you’re kind of looking at what’s there and what’s missing. And then we’re back to the drivers and things like that and what can do about it. That’s fantastic. It’s really, really interesting, you know, from the point of view that much literature, much research about leadership is straightforward business leadership, not, you know, tackling these really complex and challenging problems. That’s really useful advice.
Thank you very much indeed.
End transcript: Video 2
Video 2
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Amanda begins by saying there is a need to focus on the area where you can affect change. Family is an organisation which works directly with practitioners, that is the people who work directly with children. So in terms of their focus, it is on supporting practitioners.

The next thing they do is look at the drivers that are leading to the challenge they are facing. Amanda talks about a revolving door where many of the solutions to challenges are short-term, for example getting children off the street, only for them to be back on the street in a short time. She stresses the importance of identifying the drivers that cause the situation in the first place, which results in this revolving door scenario, and says that these are often complex.

This is a general approach to addressing the challenges the organisation wishes to tackle. They then begin to prioritise between the different challenges. The first point Amanda mentions is those challenges that are core to their identity and values. This is where she talks about prioritising challenges that are slightly disruptive, which challenge the traditional way of doing things and are often taboo issues that other agencies do not tackle. Here, she also talks about capturing knowledge that often resides in individual organisations at local level but is not shared. So the organisation seeks challenges where they are able to bring new knowledge and/or challenges that other organisations are not addressing.

This activity has provided some useful criteria for prioritising challenges:

  • they should be aligned to the focus of the organisation and how it can affect change

  • the drivers that create the challenge should be addressed

  • addressing the challenge should add value to the wider system in which the organisation operates

  • addressing the challenge should be clearly linked to the organisation’s identity and values.

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