In this bonus series on Leadership and Learning we share episodes from other podcast series we recommend featuring inspirational people that our host, Sue Stockdale has interviewed. This guest episode is from The Conscious Leader podcast published by The Learning Curve.
Sue Stockdale talks to Paul Tennant OBE, who until recently was Chief Executive at The Law Society. Paul talks about some of the key characteristics he believes are important as a conscious leader such as, resilience, empathy, and always remaining curious. He also explains the importance of pausing and reflecting and how this helps when coaching his team.
From January 2022, Paul will be the new Chief Executive for care provider The Abbeyfield Society, which owns and manages around 20 UK care homes and serves as an umbrella body for 145 Abbeyfield Member Societies.
Listen to more episodes from The Conscious Leader podcast series.
Transcription from the bonus episode from The Conscious Leader podcast
[00:00:00] Sue: hi, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to the podcast. You know, inspiration is like a magical gift. It’s within all of us. It’s free energy that we can give to others when we shared our experiences and insights about what we have learned from life for work, our hope is that this podcast gives you inspiration by listening to the experiences of guests from all around the world. At the moment we’re busy preparing a new series that will launch in January. And for this month, we have created a special, short series on the theme of leadership and learning. It features five episodes from some of the other podcasts that I host. We hope that you find these episodes thought provoking as well as provide you with some ideas and recommendations and other podcasts, that you can listen to that feature inspirational people. Today’s episode on leadership and learning is from The Conscious Leader podcast series published by The Learning Curve. I spoke to Paul Tennant Chief Executive at the Law Society. Paul talks about some of the key characteristics that he believes are important to display as a leader, such as empathy. empowerment and always remaining curious. I hope you enjoy this and others from the short series. Welcome Paul to the podcast.
[00:01:25] Paul: Thank you very much. Pleasure.
[00:01:26] Sue: Now as I say we’re looking at the topic of leadership today. And if you think about your career, Paul, I’m wondering what are your recollection of outstanding leaders that you’ve worked for and what made them outstanding in your opinion?
[00:01:42] Paul: Interesting, because this type of question makes you reflect on the leaders you’ve observed. And I do watch people. I am very keen to learn. But even when you identify great leaders, it’s also recognizing aspects where you think I might do that differently in the future. So I did work particularly one springs to mind a great leader I worked with, but that leadership ultimately failed, but watching the leader and the qualities, which really caught my imagination, it was very much about innovation. It was about energy. It was support for teams. It was vision, aspiration. And that really highlighted how somebody could really change a dynamic and an organization, take people with them. So it was absolutely fabulous. And I was very keen to capture that as a learning point and then start to use that.
But you did see that progressively as that leadership went on. There was a need to really build in behind that leadership and support that leadership going forward. But what I observed then was that if you didn’t quite get that buy in, didn’t have the right people to support your skill gaps or the skills that the leader didn’t quite have, then you weren’t building on an absolutely solid foundation. So asked us what great leadership. I also saw the potential pitfalls. That great leaders can have, because we don’t have that really strong infrastructure around you. You’re going to end up going too far [00:03:00]ahead. The organization doesn’t go with you and then you have a real concern and problem to address.
So whilst great leaders are, they’re doing great things. I think it’s important to ensure that they’ve got grit, support and grit people around them because that’s when you really do start to see organizations deliver. And I think that makes such a difference in the type of impact it had for me was it was recognizing the good and then the gap. And I’m very keen to use those two phrases, goods and gaps, goods, and gaps, because that’s what you do get. I think it also made me very curious to understand how I could learn what I could do differently and then how you do make sure you get that rounded proposition in how you do bring, focus your ambition, but you also make sure that that’s then really embedded into the team around you. So it becomes a shared endeavor, not just a singular leader going off as really gotta be a shared leadership there to really deliver that.
[00:03:51] Sue: So, what you’re making me think about Paul is if, if everyone is identifying their, their good and their gaps, there needs to be a great degree of teamness and willingness to open up and share those things. How do you create that culture of openness?
[00:04:07] Paul: It’s about a range of things. Actually, one, I think is very much about being values. ’cause all of the work I’ve done over the years has always been predicated on values and the ones I really find absolutely essential about fairness. It’s about openness, it’s about inclusivity.
And I think if you’re seeing to be developing that type of approach, then you create the environment that where the people want to buy into that. I was mindful that one of the points for today was, you know, what would your team thinks? I didn’t check out with my team, their views and their thoughts and this point of giving people confidence, giving them a clear steer, giving them space to give their own ideas, thoughts, their views, and important as a leader for them to challenge you because it does make you rehearse your own thinking, rehearse your own ideas. It also means that people are feeling more involved in the plan, the aspirations and the ambitions going forward.
And I do see this as about taking a mass of people forward, not one or two. So the more you get that inclusive and that engaged approach, I do think that really works. And I’ve always tried to make sure that people feel as if they’re part of something, part of change, part of creation, part of ambition. And I think if you do that, you create the type of culture where people think, well, I’ve got an idea. Therefore, tell me what it is. Your ideas is as valuable as anybody else’s. So let’s see what we can do.
[00:05:24] Sue: So it almost seems to me that whilst leadership is a key focus, it’s also about creating great followership.
[00:05:34] Paul: Without followers, you don’t have leaders. So, you know, it is that bit where I think at times it’s not the cult of the individual, it’s the cult of the team. And I think often I see leaders as a lightening rod, they’re bringing together ideas, their views, their, their way of delivering things. And often I think leadership is about the level. It’s almost a. As to how you do it. I think that style has got to be inclusive. The styles [00:06:00] got to be communicative. It’s got to make sure that you’re talking to people regularly and that’s got visibility because otherwise it doesn’t seem to operate in a vacuum. I just don’t think that’s particularly beneficial. So I think your point about make sure people feel part of is, is absolutely essential.
[00:06:14] Sue: There are, as you’ve been in, in the Law Society since 2017, Paul, I’m wondering, how did you initially create the culture. How did you understand the culture you were going into and then put your stamp on it if you like, because that’s sometimes I think that it’s those transitions that sometimes leaders find challenging.
[00:06:36] Paul: It’s interesting because the starting point was to talk and ask. I think again, as ever, I didn’t presume what the culture was. I wasn’t, I wanted to understand what it was and what it felt like. So joining the organization, particularly that time as an interim, it’s trying to listen to people and understand how they’re feel about things, not just the practical points of things, how do they feel about it?
And there was a range of issues that came forward and in some ways, Again, it wasn’t about putting my stamp on it. It was about asking questions. It was about being curious. It was about creating conversations. It’s about asking people what they thought the culture should we, because culture is owned by everybody. So it was trying to get that conversation onto the table first and foremost, get people feeling as if there could influence that conversation. And then when we revamped the values there with values based on the staff’s view. I was happy to facilitate that. And I do think again, part of leadership is a combination of tell, direct and engage, and you use those in different ways, depending on the circumstances and the values piece.
Wasn’t my values was our values and the values that we wanted to have in place for the next 10 years for the organization. So it was really important that that came from the staff group. Now, as those values, then get established. You tagged behind that behaviors and ways of working and what the norm is and how we do things around here. And that’s when the staff really buy into it because they start to see it in practice, the start to see their managers using it, the, see it through the appraisal program, the setting of objectives, ongoing conversations with staff so suddenly becomes part of the infrastructure. So people do buy into it, then they believe in it. And I think that piece about getting belief is key because then people do think that it’s part of a culture. It’s not just a. So I think it’s about how you approach that.
[00:08:25] Sue: Now we’ve talked so far in our conversation Paul about about great leadership, inspiring leadership, how you’ve created the culture. There’s also times I’m sure in everyone’s career where we experience poor leadership, something that was less than effective, which it can also be a great learning opportunity. Have you had any experience of that in your career and how did that impact on, on, on your own style and what you took from it?
[00:08:49] Paul: It was interesting. There was a work with a leader who technically, and in terms of outcomes, it was very effective, but wasn’t a good lead to, [00:09:00] because it was an awfully controlling environment. There’s a lack of trust. There was very little EI and it was almost a case of catching people out rather than taking people with. And I think, again, from my perspective, what that created, what I. And as an employee at the time, what they got from me as well was not all the effort I could give that didn’t get the discretionary effort as much. There was no longevity because there was no capital being earned with the staff group. I do think there’s less innovation.
People have kept their heads down. There was a fear, and I think that affected turnover and thereby the reputation of the company. So whilst you see on one hand, the results going out of the organization, it wasn’t a great place to work and it could be. So the thing that I took from that was don’t repeat the people signed focus on the outcomes, but actually I thought we could have got another 30% more outcomes by having the right approach with the people and the culture.
So I think it’s very much about seeing this through the eyes as a manager, good ideas do need to be converted into the right style, the right approach. I think it also, I suppose, created for me that curiosity as to what could be done before. So whilst it was wasn’t the best of experience, it was a great learning opportunity. And again, that ability to watch learn, copy change, do differently is one of the real opportunities that you get as a leader, you can always adjust and adapt your style.
[00:10:21] Sue: Absolutely. And sometimes we can learn the most from those experiences aren’t as effective. You’ve already mentioned Paul, that you took some counsel from your team as to what they thought about your leadership style. I’m wondering there for if you were summarizing what they might see as your top three leadership qualities, what did they say? Or what do you believe that.
[00:10:42] Paul: Well, I did check because if we do 360s, I’m always very keen to get feedback. I always take feedback as part of the PDR process. People’s personal development plans. And again, I’ve hoped I’ve created an environment where people can challenge and pass their opinions. From the team’s perspective, it’s about a range of things. Resilience. And particularly how you then translate that into, as a leader. My duty is to take pressure on my shoulders, not to exert pressure down through the organization. So that resilience piece is important and empathy and empowerment, making sure that you do understand the pressures on people, but give them space to get on and use their own minds and their own initiatives. I think being respectful and having a much more open communication style, I think that’s helped appeal to rRecognize that the values are meant, not just said. So again, it’s really important that people see and hear what you do and believe what you do. So I think the team found that was quite a, I was quite an authentic approach, quite honest, in terms of how I saw things. I think they felt the impact of that meant that they could give them themselves more effectively because it did feel as if there’s a space to grow into the opportunity to do things, be part of what was going on. And that I would listen.
[00:11:55] Sue: So I’m hearing that in what happened, an innate belief in other people’s potential. We give [00:12:00] them the space to do that. Ultimately it impacts on the organization’s outcome.
[00:12:05] Paul: It does. And I do genuinely think that everybody wants to be valued in some shape or form. Everyone wants to be valued.
So if you can capture that belief that you will be valued. I think you do get more back to my point earlier about discretionary effort, you do get more discretion. If it costs, people will go that extra step to support the organization. But I think it just comes back to dealing with people as people. And if you do inherently believe that your job as a leader is to maximize potential. Which I think is one of the most attractive parts of the leadership role, trying to get the best from everybody, give them the space to be the best there can be. Then I do think you do put in real value into the organization and you get a lot of effort from everybody which combined gives a lot more outcomes with the organized.
[00:12:50] Sue: Now you’re in a position Paul of leading an organization that has members. And what what I understand we’ve been talking about so far is how you lead your team, your staff, the board, et cetera. How does that, the approach that you have internally within the organization? How does that rub off if at all on your members?
[00:13:11] Paul: Well, it’s interesting because ultimately I work for our members. So I think the most important thing for me is to make sure that the tone and the approach I set for the organization is predicate on giving the best outcomes we can for our members. So making sure that an approach which listens members well which engages members want that, which is values led members want that. So I think I’m trying to reflect a style and approach that our members would want and they’d feel more comfortable engaged with, with the organization. And part of my job is then to project, how we approach. Work, how we approach change, how we approached the future, because I’ve got to give members confidence that we are good enough and capable enough to do what they want us to do and to deliver what they would like for themselves, for their firms and for society, which is part of the organization’s job.
So I do see it about making sure that we create a really effective internal operating environment, which members would see. That works for me. That makes sense. And it’s actually having an impact because at the end of the day, we are judged by outputs and outcomes for our members. And I’ve got to try and make sure that we are seen to be leading edge. We are agile, we’re responsive, we’re listening or engaging all the time. It characteristics they’d want for themselves and for the organization. I’ve got to make sure a clear and demonstrable within the organic.
[00:14:33] Sue: So you’re walking the talk within the law society.
[00:14:36] Paul: It is, that is absolutely the job. My job is to make sure that whatever I project is based on fact and solid outcomes. It’s not vaporware. It’s not stuff which we hope to achieve. Aspire to achieve. There is good solid progress. Been made inputs and outputs being delivered and members thinking that works for me. That’s the most important thing of members think that’s getting a result. Let me play. [00:15:00] Appreciate that. That’s all we need.
[00:15:02] Sue: So the maximizing potential ethos actually goes far away to than just the, those that you’re leading within the organization. That’s actually the belief around helping your members to do that as well.
[00:15:12] Paul: With our member offer is to help people throughout their career. So it’s really important that we understand what that means, what their wants when they want it, how they want it. Particularly now we move into a digital environment and all the current COVID situation we’re dealing with. We’ve seen change in society and organizations that happened in three weeks, which would have taken three years. So I think it’s really important. We, we capture that, respond to it and move quickly to make sure that our members can see that we’re absolutely at the leading edge of thinking of support, because what we’re trying to do is to help each person individually. Within the firms and on behalf of the profession, which is one of the real privileges of the job, you really are working with a very active, professional, very engaged profession who want to do more, want to help society more and offer a huge amount of public interest. We’ve got to keep that.
[00:16:02] Sue: So it strikes me Paul that, to have that mindset and behavior of being at the leading edge one might also imagine that that requires you to be at the leading edge of your leadership capabilities and how you’re adapting and being agile. What ways do you do that? You know, there’s a great phrase, the CPD continuing professional development, but, you know, just to get a sense, how do you keep yourself at the top of your game?
[00:16:30] Paul: I like to learn. I’ve come into the profession. I’m not a solicitor. I come into run an organization on behalf of solicitors. I needed to learn about the profession quickly. I think that’s really important. It’s one of the most attractive parts about the job. It’s a fascinating profession. I think it’s about making sure that as a leader, you train, it’s interesting. You get top athletes who train and train and train people often become managers or leaders.
That you’ve not arrived. It’s a position you’re in, but you’ve got to build that skillset. So I do coaching, I’ve got training programs across the organization. I engage with those trainers. I do additional reading because I just like to understand what more I can do to raise my game. And leadership is changing constantly.
The environment’s changing constantly, and I think a lot of the models and principles change quite quickly as well. And I think it’s how you just recognize those shifts and adapt and tweak and change. And again, like athletes, you’re not saying I’m going to overhaul, but you’re just looking at ways and means where you can improve a little bit here a little bit there a little bit, because I think if you don’t have that curiosity, then you want to drive change because you won’t change yourself.
You won’t have ambition because you don’t have ambition for yourself. I think that type of approach has got to be inherent in you because that’s when you can actually project it to others because it is what you believe in as opposed to, well, I need to see this door and I know if you don’t believe it, don’t. Well, that makes absolute sense. Now, another quality that we know is essential for leaders. In addition to what we already talked about is what we call the Pause [00:18:00] which is about prioritizing time for thinking, being objective, when making decisions. And as we’ve talked about looking at this, perhaps a status quo what needs to be shaken up or changed? What would your take be Paul, on the value of pausing? And if so, how do you make that happen?
I think the pause is essential because one of my hopes, you and my characteristics as I reflect, and I do need to reflect on a fairly regular basis, because I think you can get wrapped into the day to day. But as a leader, you’ve got to lift your head a resource and, and see across the piece. So I think the pause is a useful approach, but I use the pause for individuals, for teams and for the organization. So if I’m working with an individual partner, my job, I think. The pause is stepping back and having a conversation with somebody to help them step back a little bit and look at their role and skills, the work that they’ve done, their approach, their thinking, take a little bit of heat out of the situation. Just ask them to reflect a bit about where the link to goal, how they’re delivering, what that might look differently and ask them to re-imagine every so often. So I think partner, my job is to create the pause for people within teams. It’s also about getting the team giving a team an opportunity to reflect, and re-imagine how he does things. And I think that’s essentially getting any change program. I’m not trying to impose change. I’m trying to create the question of change and what changed my be and create that capacity and capability in the team to reflect on change. So again, I’m encouraging a pause with them. And on behalf of the organization, my job is to create the pause because it does allow me to think, well, objectively, what should we be doing?
How do we, how are we seeing through the eyes of others? What could we do differently? I don’t want to reflect the status quo. I do like change inherently, but I think that is not changed for the sake of, it’s trying to make sure that change is measured. It’s effective. It’s considered. And it’s built on a desire to make things better continually. It’s not for the fun of it. And I think if you can get that across to people that the world is changing, the environment is changing. We must change. I think it does become part and parcel of life as opposed to something which has to be a set piece. It’s a new program. It’s whatever. I think it does have to be trying to get people constantly thinking average isn’t good enough. And certainly for the law society, I’d love us to be a world-class organization. We have a worldwide brand. We do need to demonstrate our world-class ability because we’ve got brilliant skills, great things to say, excellent professional support. We need to get that across very, very clearly to people. We need to be as good as the offer. We’re trying to put through the profession. Therefore we’ve got to continue to raise our standards. So I think the pause is important because that reflection does make you think actually other people might tell us, but you can also do quite a lot of self-diagnose. And I think that’s important. I’d rather find out myself what we’re doing wrong than other people have to tell us. So I think that piece of reflection has really.
[00:20:59] Sue: [00:21:00] I’m getting the sense. It’s about pace and pause, pace to keep the organization and yourself, moving forward, and to do that, you need to take the pause to do the reflection
[00:21:08] Paul: you do, but that’s still got to be built within a context of the direction you wish to go in. So whilst you would pace us and pause the reason I wanted a five-year plan for the organization, because it does allow us to say to people, but you can see the direction. You can see the objectives, you can see the type of outcomes we’d like to achieve. So the what is quite clear. The, how needs to adjust a little bit. It’s a little bit of duck and dive every so often because we’ve got to make sure that as a world changer, we realign our feet quite quickly, still going towards the same types of outcomes and aspirations, but guaranteed things will change continually and corvids are very good at. Suddenly comes inside left within a matter of weeks, we’ve absorbed it. We’re dealing with it. We’re still dealing with the future at the same time. So the ability to do that, I think is essential for leaders and for organizing.
[00:21:57] Sue: So finally Paul what would your three pieces of wisdom based on all of your career of leadership, experiencing it and being a leader, what would you encourage our listeners to take away if they may want to improve their leadership capabilities and be even more effective?
[00:22:13] Paul: So those, those three things that continually drive me being curious, always. would be the first one like that one depends their desire to learn, to practice, to be interested in what is being done in trust, in what other people are doing and what can be achieved. So that curiosity piece is really important.
I think the point about pushing yourself frequently, challenging your own objective evaluation, making sure that status quo doesn’t become the norm and try and disrupt that. And that’s not disrupt for the sake of, but disrupt, I think is a useful word because it puts your mind in the right place at the type of questions, the type of approach and that type of things you want to do and be clear that it is about your job.
Your job is to push them to challenge and to be a little bit more side left than others might. I think the third element going back through my career is to focus on people. It’s about how you can support how you engage, how you inspire, but importantly, create a great environment that people feel as if they can challenge the very clear the expectations of them.
But they’ve got scope as to how to do that and how they deliver it. I think it’s about supporting people, having belief in them. So I do find if you have a belief in people to give that back to you and belief in you and the organization, I think that. That focus on people is the best way to get aspiration delivered in an organization because everybody wants to do well. Everybody wants to see the work for a great organization. Everybody wants to see that delivered great things. I think my job is just to make sure you give them the environment.
[00:23:42] Sue: So wise words from you, Paul and during our pause to have this podcast conversation today. I think we’ve really learned about what are some of those important leadership characteristics that are important to you, and that would help organizations to consider ensuring that their leaders are displaying as well.
[00:23:58] Paul: So thank you for your time today. It’s been a [00:24:00] great pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much.
Sound Editors: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him) and Rob Lawrence (he/him)
Producers: Sue Stockdale (she/her) and Rob Lawrence (he/him)