Relational Leadership in the Real World

Personal Transitions Service (PTS) Manager, Katie-Lee Moroney, reflects on what it takes to be a good manager, the role and the importance of relationships over power imbalances.

When I first got the call saying I had got the job with Mayday Trust in 2013, I remember saying to a colleague ‘I can’t believe I am going to be a Manager!’ I was so pleased that Mayday had taken the time to recognise my skills and could hopefully see that I had the potential to be a good leader. I also remember spending a significant amount of time thinking about what sort of ‘Manager’ I would be. Wondering how people would know to trust me? Questioning if I had enough knowledge to share? Worrying how people might feel about me being a bit younger?

I looked back on the different management techniques I had experienced, such as the ‘the micro-manager’, ‘the Manager who doesn’t really know you at all’ and not forgetting ‘the Manager who uses power to control’. It occurred to me that I saw these as times as being ‘managed’, rather than being led or inspired to do well in my role – this is similar to John Maxwell’s* idea of leadership through position, which doesn’t really get you anywhere! The positive experiences of leadership prior to Mayday were unfortunately in the minority, but when they did occur they stood out and positively contributed to me forming my own leadership style rather than focusing on being a ‘Manager’.

Now six years into to my role at Mayday I am very much still learning and developing but have come to realise the fundamental importance of relational leadership. My role has changed rapidly in this time and alongside this my values and beliefs in what makes a good leader have also grown. Since starting as a PTS Manager I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing leaders and they have all contributed to how I work today and how I work with my team. My style has become more representative of building strong relationships and also leading based on results and buy in.

Here are some of the things I have learned (it’s not always been the easy way!):

Know what you know and be comfortable with what you don’t – I came to Mayday Trust with transferable skills from the education sector, but I had no first-hand experience working with people experiencing homelessness. Mayday’s Personal Transitions Service prioritises working without labels and treating people as people, and luckily for me these were the same values I had bought into in previous roles. I also work with a brilliant team who have a wealth of experience working with people and help me each day to understand what this is like.

I look forward to 1-2-1’s each month as the Coaches stories, successes and challenges bring the PTS to life for me. I am comfortable with not having first-hand experience as it has made me a better listener. What I do know is that my strengths lie in project management and bringing a team together. I am a good details person and a brilliant planner, which means I am able to balance the different contracts we hold to allow the Coaches to do what they do best and that’s putting the people they work with first.

Be transparent, but also know when to act as a buffer – As a leader in an ever changing organisation I can be privy to lots of information, it’s important I know what to share and what not to share. Transparency is important, but knowing what’s best for team morale is equally as important. The PTS focuses on Coaches building trusting relationships with the people they work with and similarly in my role I need to build these relationships with the Coaches in my team. The Coaches need to trust that I will share what they need to know at the right time; allowing their entire focus to be on the person and not external pressures.

Recognition – Recognise all the extra effort your team invests in ensuring that the people they work with have a positive experience with the PTS. Recognise that flexible working shouldn’t mean working more hours than usual and having your phone on 24/7. In the difficult financial landscape we are in it is difficult to provide progression, however by recognising someone’s assets and talents and utilising them when opportunities present themselves can be a way to help a Coach feel further valued.

Nobody likes a last minute panicker! – The PTS is always changing and evolving, it hardly ever stays still at Mayday! This requires an extraordinary amount of organisation to ensure that planning, monitoring, projects, development and team sessions all take place when they should.  It’s essential I have my eye on the ball (more like balls at the moment!), the future and the unknown!

Sharing the learning – When working across a large geographical area I have discovered that it is really important that both success and challenges are recognised and shared to allow other teams, who potentially don’t directly deliver the PTS, to experience and understand things from the Coaches point of view. This could be through good news stories, shared team meetings, reflective practice and other more informal channels. It is also just as important that it goes the other way as well. Growing the PTS, working with other organisations and overcoming barriers beyond delivery are all areas that can help a Coach see the bigger picture, recognise the important part they are playing in creating that paradigm shift in the systems available to people going through tough times. Unlike many of the roles I have been in previously, the PTS is one big team – #OneTeam if we’re talking Twitter!

Strong relationships run throughout everything I have mentioned. Without trusting relationships and a like-minded team with you, it is very difficult to be a good leader. Alongside these relationships it’s crucial that I know when to let the talents of a team shine and when to refocus my attention. Due to the changeable nature of the Mayday I have no doubt that the role I have today will probably look very different in 12 months or even next week. Whatever happens I will continue to learn, develop and evolve. I have so much more to learn and I hope my experiences will continue to shape me and my leadership style. Just like the people we work with, I have the potential to do and become whatever I want!

* Maxwell, J.C., 2011, The Five Levels of Leadership – Proven steps to Maximize your Potential, New York: Centre Street