Keith Towler reflects on Leadership and the Leading Wales Awards

Keith Towler, Chair of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS) was winner of the Leadership in the Voluntary & Not for Profit Sector in 2017.

What makes a good leader?
A question that has many answers based on everyone’s own experience. We all have direct experience of being inspired by someone. That individual or collective that moved you to act.

I had an art teacher when I was in school who inspired a lifelong interest in drawing and painting. I had a line manager when I started on a career in social work that made me think quite creatively about what I could achieve. I met a number of children and young people, when I was Children’s Commissioner for Wales, that taught me that leadership and being inspired by someone’s experience or actions, was not defined or limited by status or age.

Winning a Leading Wales Award in 2017 was quite a humbling experience. To be recognised as someone who has demonstrated sound leadership is really quite something. As the Chair of CWVYS, the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services, I see every week how youth work changes young people’s lives for the better. In some circumstances it has actually saved a young person’s life. I’m quite sure of that. So, to be endorsed and nominated as a leader from the voluntary youth work sector is an accolade indeed.

Awards are very useful of course but what difference does it make? I’m no longer a practitioner. For the last 20 years or so my work has been at a national level, promoting legislative or policy change based on a commitment to improve children and young people’s lives. That’s the key. Remembering that everything you do, at whatever level, has to have a focus on improving the life chances of those you represent or advocate for.

The Leading Wales Awards are high profile and enjoy a prominent place in Welsh civil society. There is no doubt that being nominated and then winning my category had an impact on at least two levels. Firstly, on me, as I reflected on how I got here and what I might want to do next. And, secondly for CWVYS and the voluntary youth work sector. Youth work in Wales, like many parts of public service, face considerable challenges as it fights to continue its work in hard times financially. The publicity surrounding the Awards certainly helped to raise the profile of youth work but it also helped in cementing the importance of voluntary youth services at a time when the Welsh Government is looking to promote and expand the delivery of youth work.

It would be foolish to say that being nominated for an award, or being a winner, was an end in itself. Surely though it is good to share stories, learn from the experience of others and meet people from other sectors. Listening and reflecting on what you learn helps to make good leaders. If you are thinking of nominating someone or find yourself being nominated for a Leading Wales Award, the experience will be a positive one. Go for it!

(Very many thanks Keith – a very well-deserved recognition of your leadership too via your Award win! Barbara)