Leadership …In An Unstable World!

Leadership In An Unstable WorldWhat makes an effective leader! Better still, what makes an effective leader at a time of rapid and continual change? Definitions abound and yet, in reality, they are largely inadequate in describing what is truly required in the face of the kind of change we currently experience globally … and, ultimately, locally.

This is because our experience of that change is personal, it is individual and it impacts our feelings, emotions, thoughts and behaviours on a constant basis! I experience this every day, as will you, and my reflections on how I’ve approached this over time, including in a recent role as a leader within a voluntary and community organization in England, lead me to conclude that the best leadership approach is one that mirrors my emotional intelligence, enables me to exercise my influence … and demonstrates my authenticity!

Leadership is a state of being. It is the human factor that people – peers, staff and colleagues in your organization and outside of it – will respond to most positively, especially when times are both challenging and stressful! So, reflecting on this, how do I continue to deliver effective leadership at such times?

I Connect Leadership and Vision

I ensure that I constantly relate our work back to our organization’s vision and the values that underpins this. If opportunities don’t align with the vision, I don’t go for them. I don’t want ‘mission drift’ and our organization to end up chasing money rather than providing projects and activity that truly add real value for our customers.

I Am Visible, Approachable and Adaptive

I walk the job – I have always believed in this mantra and still do it. I have an ‘open door’ policy that means when it is closed I am not available … but otherwise come on in! I encourage challenge and comment, listen actively and then take decisive action. I believe in the exercise of influence rather than power and ‘Bridging’ and ‘Attracting’ [Thanks to Cynthia @savvyinfluencer] are my main styles! I will involve others, manage feelings, seek to collaborate, build trust, and help people to focus people on vision and mutual goals.

I Promote Our Organization’s Image and Reputation

I manage the image and reputation of our organization by ensuring that we are clear about who our customers are and what their needs/wants/interests are; that we are certain that our offer meets those needs and, where possible, wants and interests; and, that our approach as an organisation delivers our offer in the most economic, effective and efficient way.

I Demonstrate the Impact of Our Work

I believe in delivering evidence-based interventions for our customers. This is what defines real impact for them and so I demand effective needs analysis. This has to be regularly reviewed and should underpin any offer that we make as an organization. I am also a devotee of effective performance management – not counting numbers for numbers sake, but in gaining a proper perspective on what works and what doesn’t … and fine tuning outcomes and impact as a consequence.

I Invest In My People

It has always seemed ironic that, the very time organizations most need to and should invest in their staff, is usually when workforce development slows or investment is curtailed. This strikes me as a false economy – the financial climate is a cyclical thing and the demand for goods and services will return – often in new and different ways. So, how well geared do you need to be to meet those opportunities that will eventually appear?

I Constantly Scan Both Internal and External Environments

I am alert and sensitive to what is happening both within and without my organization. Externally, new policies, approaches, ideas and techniques abound and the ways in which they will or might impact on our organization needs to be assessed, judged and responded to. Internally, I ‘touch and feel’ the organisation, through regular staff and customer contact, summary reporting, ‘walking the job’, and digesting quantities of information in a variety of formats. I regulate how much detail I work with though, as I see my role as ‘big picture’, vision, mission and direction of travel … and not micro-management!

I Keep Learning

I believe that organisational life, like our own individual lives, is a journey, during which we are and should remain lifelong learners. I am a profound believer in the notion of Learning Power and am an accredited practitioner in the Inventory tool that helps people understand their Learning Power … and how this might be improved. I apply this thinking wherever I can … however we also each bear a real responsibility too for our own learning and its application in the everyday.

In reflecting on my learning, I regularly ask myself these three great leadership questions:

  1. What am I doing to make people feel like they belong?
  2. What am I doing to help people realise they matter?
  3. How am I helping people work together?

If I can answer these successfully on any given day, then I believe I am leading effectively. How are you doing with your reflections?

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About John Thurlbeck

"John is a highly experienced and effective leader, manager and consultant; 25 years in public sector leading and managing change in ‘turnaround situations’; and, 9 years plus as a proactive OD consultant, trainer/facilitator and interim manager, working across the UK and Europe.
Recognised and recommended for great results, expertise, sense of humour and high integrity, John is known as an inspirational and empowering people and organisation developer, underpinned, in particular, by his passion for lifelong learning and making a real difference in the lives of young people. He is also passionate about effective leadership, decision-making and the consequences of choice.
John is Managing Director of his own company, Wear Consulting Limited, an organisation and management development consultancy, based in North East England. The company specialises in strategic focus and direction; leadership and management of public and third sector services, usually focused on work with young people; performance review and improvement; strategic and business planning; cultural change management; and a range of bespoke workforce development programmes, especially building trust, resourcefulness, resilience, and in developing leadership and management capability and capacity at an individual or team level.
John is currently leading on a public sector employee mutual spin-out; the North East Succession Planning Programme; and is engaged in a range of support to commissioners of services for young people. In a voluntary capacity, John is a Trustee of a youth project in Sunderland and the Board Chair of the first UK youth mutual company, based in Durham.


  1. Terrific summary and so well said, John!

  2. Excellent article John. After 15 years as a CEO in three nonprofitw, I agree that your list of behaviors is perfect. I encourage the younger generation to capture this article and put it in their planning notebook.

    • I agree with Don. The younger generation needs to understand the “human factor” involved with being a leader and what “I” need to do. Great suggestion Don!

    • Hi Don

      Thanks so much for your feedback and your suggestion! A strong value system underpins these behaviours and I would hope many can and do have share those values!

      Kind regards


  3. Hi John. Great article and thanks for the mention! (-: Leadership IS a state of being and this article really explores this reality from many different angles. Very thought-provoking and enlightening content. Your three leadership questions are a good way to reflect on if and how a leader is involving those around him/her. Very critical. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

    • Hi Cynthia

      Thanks so much and the mention was heartfelt! I am glad too you liked the questions – I’ve heard people say too many times in my corporate life that staff are the core of the organisation … and then treat them like numbers … or worse! I value people and I try to do that in my life, not just in my work.

      Kind regards



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