Five Lessons From The Coalface


From Sara Harrup

Throughout our careers we learn many lessons, from our experiences, from formal teaching and mentoring and from our leaders. Often we lament the scarcity of really good leaders but we can learn as much from those who aren’t as good at the top as we can from those who are. As I ease myself into work again in 2014 I find myself reflecting on the top five most powerful work lessons I have learned over my career.

1. You can keep your eye on the detail without micromanaging. I used to work for a civil engineer turned executive who had an incredible eye for detail whilst at the same time left me alone to run my own show. With my freedom to run things the way I chose came some very hefty accountability. He looked for the anomalies, the things that just didn’t seem right and he strolled around each day, using his eyes and ears. He was a stickler for performance measures and robust reporting and he called me to account when business performance shifted in the wrong direction, even just a little. He took the time to sit with me regularly and discuss the performance of my unit, and coached me to understand the data trends behind the business, and how to use measurement to drive performance. He wasn’t a charismatic man. I’m not sure how much I liked him but I have never forgotten what he taught me.

2. Be direct. If there is an issue to be discussed, discuss it. If there is something that needs to be done, take a direct route in doing it. When people tiptoe around never quite getting to the point, confusion reigns and performance suffers.

3. Reward and recognize people when they perform well. It doesn’t have to be something of large monetary value. Verbal or written praise is powerful. This doesn’t just apply if you lead a team of people. If you report to someone else there is no reason you cannot congratulate them on an achievement or a work strength.

4. Make sure you can lie straight in bed at night. By this I mean keep a strong moral compass at work. If you have been funded to offer a service or contract, provide it. Don’t “absorb” that extra bit of funding you were given, or fly one of your board member’s relatives overseas on the company credit card. If you are refusing to give your staff salary increases best not book yourself on a sabbatical/”work” trip or buy yourself new office furniture. Don’t protect workplace bullies and punish the victims. Don’t turn the other cheek to something that is too difficult to manage and let someone else suffer. The lesson here is to do the right thing. You will sleep easier at night and have the respect of the people around you. Nothing does the rounds of the office grapevine quicker than ethical or moral misdemeanors.

5. Manage your risk. So many organisations don’t even grant a focused ten minutes a month on discussing and analyzing their current risks. You don’t have to be a big outfit to think about risk. I’ve seen some very small organisations with some very big risks, some of which have materialized and nearly pushed the organisation under. You don’t need to have fancy software or pretty tables. Just dedicate time to think about the risks, what their effect would be and action plan measures to avoid them materializing.

About Sara: Sara is a Cause & Effective Associate. She is a former not for profit CEO and has first-hand knowledge of the challenges and issues faced by organisations in the sector and the people who work in them. She brings this experience and insight to our Leadership Recruitment team.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

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