International Women’s Day 2023 – Lucie’s Leadership Learnings
Lucie Russell, StreetDoctors CEO since 2019, has been in leadership roles in the youth, violence and justice sectors for many years. She was a founder of the Big Issue and set up its charity The Big Issue Foundation, led a national campaign on community solutions to crime at the Prison Reform Trust, co-created and delivered campaigns alongside young mental health activists at YoungMinds, which put young people’s mental health on the national agenda, and developed the Fair By Design campaign for the Barrow Cadbury Trust, creating a national conversation about how it is more expensive to be poor.
She told us about 5 key things she has learnt as a woman in leadership:
1) Being effective in changing the world is also about getting your house in order
As charitable sector organisations we all passionately want to create meaningful change in the issues we platform. However, mission effectiveness requires an organisation to have solid foundations: strong, purpose focused teams and financial security. It needs to be professionally run with all its processes and policies firmly in place. There must be clarity on risks and strong mitigations in place, efficient governance and gold standard safeguarding protocols. Being ‘out there’ and externally facing is all very well, but if your house is not in order and is falling down around you, this will for absolute sure affect your performance as a results driven organisation.
2) Check your tendency to undermine yourself
As female leaders many of us have a particular tendency to undermine ourselves. One of my biggest learnings was when I first became a senior manager and I gave a member of my staff some constructive criticism, followed by me saying ‘sorry for saying that’. My director was in ear shot, and very rightly told me to do some deep reflection on the message that comment was conveying – a lesson very helpfully learnt.
3) Innovation is messy
When leading innovation in an organisation there is always a period of ‘messiness’ where the team you are working alongside feels lost and worries about the lack of focus and direction. However, this period is part of the creative process and good leaders help their teams to sit with these feelings. This messiness feels scary sometimes because there is a lack of clarity about where the process is going, and its end goals, and makes people want to just be told what to do. But innovation by its nature is a winding path, and failure and learning are part of the journey of discovery. The eventual clarity achieved when the team finds that lightbulb moment, when everything falls into place, is a joyous part of innovation success.
4) Getting on top of the myriad of challenges in change management
When managing change, good leaders are able to sit with discomfort and hold their nerve, they listen to their staff and volunteers and give them space. They focus on rational responses and check themselves that they are not falling into emotionally driven reactions. They find their allies in driving through change in their organisations, focusing on both internal and external stakeholders. They take the right actions at the right time, and they focus on quick wins as part of the entire change journey.
5) Creating inclusive organisations is a journey
Creating inclusive organizations is being comfortable about sitting with the uncomfortable, and holding that space for the whole organisation. It’s about asking difficult questions, it’s about thoughtfulness, and humility and admitting you don’t know how to change things, and that what you have done to date has done little to change the status quo. It’s about going on a journey, and one that produces concrete results. Because every action, however small, in challenging and changing structural inequalities, changes the world – one small step at a time.