Leadership Stories

Disclaimer: All details included in these leadership stories have been provided by the finalists themselves. All information has been accepted in good faith. Any references to individuals or circumstances have been relayed in the finalist’s own words and have not been verified by the Leading Wales Awards Directors or its Consortium. Any views expressed are those of the individuals concerned and are not necessarily the views of the Leading Wales Awards Directors or Consortium members.

Hannah Jenkins

Hannah Jenkins is Director of Community Music Wales. She is responsible for the strategic and creative overall management of the organisation reporting to a Board of Trustees. She manages the staff, ensuring that the organisation is relevant, agile and remains financially stable. This includes creating and managing an ever-evolving business plan.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Throughout my life I have had to privilege of working with and knowing many inspiring people who have shown me what great leadership is. The main thing I learned was not to have an ego and to take advice from others. But also, to have the confidence to take the final decision. As I became a manager at a young age, confidence was something I initially struggled with and I had to work hard to overcome it. The birth of my son changed my perspective on work/life balance and I finally feel that I have a healthy measure of both.

What have been the main highlights and challenges since taking up your leadership role with Community Music Wales?
My main highlights have been working with inspirational, creative people who work as a team to problem solve, develop new ideas and constantly look at new ways of working. This makes my role as Director easier as each member of our team plays a vital role in moving the organisation forward.
The main challenges have been navigating through a difficult economic climate in a sector that has faced huge financial cut backs. This has meant that as a small charity, we have had to be agile, creative in our thinking and have had to pull together to survive.

What have been the most helpful things you have learnt from these highlights and challenges
I have learned not to be too precious and to accept advice and support when offered. I have learned that team work is the only way to survive with buy in from every member of the team, who can all make a positive contribution to problem solving and decision making.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing leaders in Wales in 2017?
In my sector, the biggest challenge is manoeuvring an ever changing landscape of policy change and funding cuts. This means, ensuring week on week that your organisation remains relevant and financially secure through a diverse funding base. Finally that it can balance financial survival with maintaining excellent treatment of its staff.

Which other leaders in Wales do you admire and why?
I admire all leaders in the voluntary/ charitable sector because these are such difficult times, all leaders have had to show resilience, tenacity and creativity in ensuring that their organisations survive and thrive. Without these people, many excellent services, support networks and creative outlets wouldn’t exist.

What is one word that sums up leadership for you?
We (Not I)

Helen Kell

Helen Kell is the Gwella Business Development Manager with Cyfannol Women’s Aid (part of the Gwella partnership). Her role is to enable the CEOs of three distinct domestic abuse charities to develop a shared vision, set of aims and strategy, to create a wide-reaching partnership that shares services and resources, and join forces to support some of the most vulnerable people in society.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
In every role that I’ve worked, I’ve learnt something from the people around me, including those who have led me and those I have led. This will continue throughout my career, as I know that there is always something new for me to learn about leading people and about myself.
Undertaking two level 5 ILM’s was a turning point and, because of that, I request quarterly feedback on my own performance from those I directly manage. This has enabled me to become a more adaptive leader, changing my approach to the needs of the situation and the individual.

What have been the main highlights and challenges since taking up your leadership role with the Gwella partnership?
Bringing together three very different organisations to develop a collaborative approach has been a steep learning curve. To do so, I’ve had to quickly gain an in-depth knowledge of the sector and its possible future direction, whilst also understanding the individual CEOs and their organisations’ needs.
The highlights have been working with three amazing charities, their staff, volunteers and the families they support. The challenges have been juggling the needs of these three different organisations, prioritising effectively, and ensuring that all activities meet the shared vision of the partnership.

What have been the most helpful things you have learnt from these highlights and challenges?
Building good relationships with staff quickly, being enthusiastic and interested about their work, and acknowledging that they are the expert in their fields.
Thinking outside the box, and being prepared to challenge the thinking of the CEOs, individually or as a group, and looking at things from a different perspective.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing leaders in Wales in 2017?
Within the third sector, uncertainties about the economy, austerity and Brexit are key concerns, however they are outside our control. Within our control, I feel the sector needs to market its successes better; there is so much good work carried out in our communities that commissioners/funders are unaware of.

Which other leaders in Wales do you admire and why?
I admire anyone who takes time out of their busy life to become a trustee of a charity or a director for a not-for-profit organisation. They are the ones who are truly committed to the causes they serve.

What is one word that sums up leadership for you?
Empowerment

Keith Towler (winner)

Keith Towler is Chair of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS). CWVYS is the representative body for the voluntary youth work sector in Wales: a collective voice for 98 member organisations, 30,000 volunteers and 3,000 staff working with 250,000 young people.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My life has been characterised by working with children and young people for over 30 years. This has shaped my leadership approach. I try to never take anything for granted or to underestimate the contribution that children and young people can make to their own lives, to the lives of others or to the communities in which they live, learn and have fun.
Listening and acting on what is said, making decisions based on an informed approach, communicating clearly and respecting everyone’s contribution. Sounds easy. It isn’t, but I guess my life experience has taught me that creating positive change means that you are always learning and that making mistakes helps to shape long term success.

What have been the main highlights and challenges since taking up your leadership role with CWYVS?
Highlights: being able to work closely with and learn from committed, knowledgeable and passionate Trustees in order to shape and influence not just the future direction of CWVYS but also of youth work policy in Wales. Celebrating CWVYS’s 70th birthday; recognising how far the organisation has travelled whilst looking forward to the future. Agreeing a youth work vision for the future that values and respects the contribution that young people can make.
Challenges: working to ensure that future direction is underpinned by a strategic approach to sustaining and developing the work of CWVYS. Understanding the immense pressures that our Members are under when cuts to youth work provision are the norm. Ensuring that at a strategic and operational level our members are able to deliver their services so that young people are supported and given the opportunities they need to be the best that they can be.

What have been the most helpful things you have learnt from these highlights and challenges?
That when you line up key players to a single vision, where everyone can see and understand how their contribution can make a difference, it is possible to achieve your goals.
That powerful communication in the mainstream media and in social media can mobilise support when the vision is well articulated.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing leaders in Wales in 2017?
Austerity and its impact on delivering public services. In the voluntary sector, austerity has reduced time and capacity to support, deliver and evaluate key programmes. This creates a leadership challenge where arguments around best value have to be balanced with a determination to deliver safe, positive and enriching public services.

Which other leaders in Wales do you admire and why?
In Wales, we are fortunate to have young people led youth forums, school councils, junior safeguarding boards and youth councils. They all make a huge contribution to our communities and yet their profile nationally remains quite low. Young leaders offer hope for the future but they also demonstrate here and now how effective leadership can change people’s lives.

What is one word that sums up leadership for you?
Accountability