Stepping into Leadership (Interview w. Sophie Coulthard)
We sat down with Sophie Coulthard, author of The Care Leader's Handbook and host of our favourite podcast The Road to Outstanding. The topic of conversation was leadership, and how everyone can step into leadership - also in a social care setting.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge when stepping into a leadership role in care?
Sophie: We see a lot of scenarios where someone is good at their job and so they are promoted to a leader, yet whilst they may have been given management training or told the processes, they’re not supported in any leadership development. I also think one of the biggest challenges can be that you’re promoted above your colleagues who are often your friends. We see this with many new leaders and they can struggle with how to behave in the new role. Can they still be friends but have a level of authority? It can be tricky to navigate.
Q: What do you typically see with new leaders?
Sophie: Often people will go one way or the other. They’ll either try to stay friendly and risk being walked over or they become too authoritative and their colleagues can be put out by their sudden commanding style of leadership. It’s important to reflect and understand that leadership is not about you, it’s about how you can influence others to positive outcomes. That might mean a different style of leadership for different people and that’s a key lesson for any new leader.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone stepping into a leadership role?
Sophie: The flexible style of leadership is key. Many people have a lightbulb moment when they realise they don’t need to have a fixed style of leadership. The problem with a fixed style is that it will only resonate with a small percentage of the team. If you are constantly telling people what to do, then the people who are competent and experienced will get fed up and look for a job elsewhere where they will feel valued. If you can understand what is going to motivate someone then you can lead them effectively.
Q: Have you ever stepped into a leadership role? What happened?
Sophie: Yes! When I was 20, I was promoted to the manager of a bar I was working in. I had to be the leader of all my friends and some surly doormen and I didn’t know how to step into this new position. All of the team were experienced and motivated so instead of dictating to them, I supported them with any new ideas they had and made sure to thank them for their work every evening. It really helped get the best out of them and they respected that I was involved and still pulling pints with them. This style was the right style for that team and that’s why it worked so effectively.
Q: Your book features some research of Outstanding rated managers – what can you share from that?
Sophie: We used the Judgement Index assessment to look at the values-based behaviours of managers at Outstanding rated care homes and I think the research is really useful for any new leaders to reflect on. The clear finding was that all of these managers had a solid personal foundation. What I mean by that is that they had good levels of self-esteem, they were not too self-critical, they all had things that fulfilled them outside of work and they all had great stress-coping skills. All of this means that they can get more out of work as a result and be better leaders.
If you think about it, if you’re stable in yourself then you’re probably able to make better decisions and be more focused at work. I think anyone can take something from these findings and perhaps more should be done to support people personally at work - such as confidence-building workshops or learning how to cope with personal stress. Often, companies think all training needs to be skills-focused, but things like this will have a positive impact on work performance.
Q: The ethos of your book is “Everyone is a leader” can you explain a bit about that?
Sophie: We definitely need more of a leadership culture in care, and that starts with the individual. We argue that everyone is a leader – and if you don’t lead a team then at the very least you lead yourself and the people you care for. That’s why we wanted to make the book accessible to anyone, managers and CEO’s but also team leaders and people just starting their journey. We hope that the practical exercises could be used at any level to develop leadership skills.
Q: What do you want people to take from the book?
Sophie: I hope the book becomes a useful resource for anyone in care, that they come back to again and again. We’ve featured lots of ideas that can be turned into workshops with the team and included templates that can be downloaded from our website, all of which can be used for evidence for CQC. We want the ideas in the book to be ongoing, not just short-term initiatives, and we hope people will use it to lead themselves, the team and the culture of their home or company.
Q: You also host a social care podcast; The Road To Outstanding and have interviewed many outstanding rated managers. Does any episode stand out to you or is there a common theme in their experience or advice?
Sophie: There are definitely common themes that run through the interviews and many of the managers talk about the support they’ve had from their own teams in achieving the outstanding rating. I think a great episode for anyone stepping into a leadership role would be Series 6, Episode 2 with two of the managers from Milkwood Care, Ben and Katie. Both were under 30 when they became managers and share the challenges they’ve faced and the support that’s helped them to thrive in their roles. It would be a really useful episode for anyone with aspirations to become a young manager.
Q: Do you have any final words of encouragement for anyone who is going for a promotion or about to step into a leadership role?
Sophie: Remember that leaders are not born, they are nurtured! You don’t have to know it all now and there are so many books, podcasts and videos that can support you on your journey. Never be too proud to learn more and you will be a fantastic leader!
About Sophie Coulthard:
Sophie is from Judgement Index, who support care companies with recruitment, development and retention of staff through their values-based assessment. They also run leadership workshops and academies for care companies across the UK. The Care Leader’s Handbook; a practical guide to care leadership is available on Amazon.
Sophie also hosts The Road To Outstanding Podcast which features interviews with care leaders and experts and is available on all podcast platforms.