Jacqui Gedman talks about her journey from civil engineer to the first female CEO at Kirklees Council, how leadership development played a big part in her career and why nurturing leadership talent is so important.
Leadership development has played a significant role throughout my career, not only helping me get to where I am today as Chief Executive of Kirklees Council, but is an ethos I follow to support the development of future talent across the whole organisation.
Being a leader does have its challenges. The last 12 months in particular have probably been the most challenging period for many leaders, including myself, so there has never been a more crucial time to ensure leaders have the capabilities to lead during adversity, and leadership development plays a bit part in that.
Breaking glass ceilings
I followed a quite unconventional route to becoming CEO of a council. As a female civil engineer student in the 80s it was perceived to be an unusual career choice. Being a female in a male-dominated environment was however a more positive experience for me rather than negative. I loved being a civil engineer and although often challenging, it spurred me on to tackle the traditional way of doing things.
Career pathways can be very different and will reflect people’s work and life circumstances and it’s important for leaders to be attuned to that. I do believe that if you break a glass ceiling, or do a job that is not traditional, you feel a real obligation to pull people behind you, and that’s something I feel really passionate about. I love to nurture talent and provide opportunities that won’t easily come to them if they remain where they are. Through my career, I have found that it has been about people that believe in you, are willing to support you, invest time in you that help you achieve your potential.
Leadership development and its importance
Centres like the new Sir George Buckley Innovation Centre are fabulous and just what we need in the region to help nurture potential leaders and help them grow.
I have been very fortunate during my career when it comes to my personal development. When I first started at Kirklees Council, my potential was quickly identified, and I was supported to advance my career. The Council ran a Leadership Academy for internal staff to grow the next generation of leaders. I was selected for the course and it was a real turning point in my career.
Leadership development can help determine what style of leadership you have. You might have your own style, for example, I learnt that I am a pacesetter, action-focused, and can be positive and very collaborative through leadership training, but I can also be autocratic when I need to be. However, a great leader should have the ability to be able to adapt their leadership, having other tools in their armoury and bringing those tools out at the right time.
Being a CEO is incredibly challenging but can be very rewarding. The role has changed considerably even over the period I have been one and I know will continue to evolve. There aren’t many organisations that can resolve all the complex issues that we face now, and because of that system leadership has been brought to the fore more than ever.
When facing challenges sometimes the leadership theory and application on a personal level really helps you to think in a way that you would not be able to think before without that support. It helps you better understand yourself, by understanding what you naturally do and know there are tools and techniques that can help and by knowing that you can achieve better results.
Mentoring and coaching leadership talent
I believe I have a personal responsibility to nurture talent in the organisation and see it as my job to make sure I help others reach their potential. That’s not just about finding the next Director or Service Director, it’s about helping people become the very best they can be.
A great leader has a responsibility not only for their own development but should have the ability to spot potential and role models to support the development of others.
Good leaders also understand the importance of being part of a strong team. I can form great teams. I recognise it is not about having a group of people that are very alike and all think the same, you need to have diversity of thought and style to achieve the best results.
All through my career I have had the support of a coach. It is the single most valuable thing I took away from my leadership development training. No-one ever stops learning. It enables me to take time out from daily challenges, reflect, and work with somebody to work through those challenges. For me it is time very well spent. Once you learn how to do that and how coaching works, you then have the ability to then coach other people, even if it’s not formally, but support them with challenges that they are grappling with.
I take pride in the coaching environment we instil at the Council. We are a restorative organisation now, which means we have moved from being very paternalistic. Now we sit down and work through challenges together, so it is more about working with people and that is not just with our partners and residents, but with our staff too.
At Kirklees Council we have a ‘Circle’ discussion every week that includes all Directors and Service Directors, which has been a gamechanger over the last couple of years and is really rewarding. We start by checking in with everyone as a quick icebreaker, which enables us to get to know people as individuals. We then we move onto the more complex, professional problems. Everyone has a voice in these sessions and we all come at it knowing that everyone’s input is valued – the more perspectives, the better solutions we find. In working in this way, I have found our confidence as an organisation has grown too.
There is a line that I always use with my children around self-belief, which I think is really important when it comes to great leadership – “If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect other people to believe in you?” Be true to yourself and authentic to others and you are well on your way to becoming a great and successful leader.