Grace Owen MSc Assoc CIPD is Director of Grace Owen Solutions Ltd. She is a British Ghanaian who has grown an eclectic portfolio of work over 20 years in London, the UK, Europe and Africa. Grace has a proven track record in reflective practice, organizational development, learning and development, talent development and project management. She has developed thousands of leaders from thirty countries, at non-executive, Board, senior, middle, junior and graduate levels to excel and make a greater impact wherever they are. Grace is also Director of African Diaspora Kids, a community legacy project and a Non-Executive Director of Camfed, which campaigns for female education in East, West and South Africa. Grace is author of two books, The Career Itch and The Leader’s Call. More on Grace’s work at www.grace-owen.com
What warms your heart when you reflect on where leadership is today?
My heart is warmed because of the recognition that leadership happens at all levels in organizations and because more of those showing leadership capabilities are being identified, developed and supported. It is also exciting to see the exponential growth of grass roots and community leadership to make the world a better place.
Your latest book, the Leader’s call; in terms of your concept of leadership as a call, how does that differ from some of the prevailing notions of leadership?
There are three main differences; that leadership is a vocation not just a title, privilege or responsibility and that everyone has the potential to lead, not just a chosen few. The CALL of leadership also emphasizes four attributes- Commitment, Authenticity, Learning and Legacy which offer a unique approach for effective and transformative leader development.
And when one accepts the “CALL” to be a leader, what are some of the most important things they should do that could lift their impact?
The most important thing is to be conscious of this acceptance because although leadership is rewarding, it is tough and can be confusing. Use the four insights as a framework for learning, developing, growing and ultimately becoming an agent of transformation wherever they are leading…in other words, read and complete all the activities in my book!
Character is no longer seen as core to leadership as one would expect. What are some of the other critical qualities/principles of leadership that in your view are ‘’endangered’’ and need to be actively protected and nurtured?
Character is still core to leadership, many of us continue to judge a leader by their character and impact on people not just the results they generate or leave behind.
There is a danger that as leaders move from one level to another or one role to another they are perceived as the ‘one size fits all leader’ that fits all teams, functions and organisations. But leaders are continuously changing professionally and personally and we need to see them as a whole person. When the curriculum for leader development is primarily based on their individuality i.e. it is personalized, it presents the opportunity for them to more ably express their whole self and abilities. Return on investment studies on 1-1 mentoring and coaching backs this up.
Having worked with many leaders, what are some of the most effective ways you’ve seen of how leaders tackle distractions and the things that threaten to disrupt their focus?
Distractions are usually manageable but some leaders find ‘fire-fighting’ and crisis management, addictive due to the release of pleasure hormones in these situations. Other leaders equate busyness with success. Disruption, if it comes from outside the sphere of the leaders control is difficult to ignore. The ability to scan the environment for threats and address them is a key part of the leader’s responsibilities. It takes mental and emotional strength and resilience to focus on what one can do/will do vs. what one can’t do/won’t do. Leaders who are effective often have a professional support group to help keep a can-do attitude. They have a life outside of work and they make sure that they take breaks away from work e.g. moving around, getting fresh air, taking downtime, having fun. They have strong organization and planning skills and make sure that their teams have everything they need to succeed. They create a team culture where everyone can flourish and be their best. They are willing to delegate to team members and trust them, rather than hold onto heavy workloads believing that only they can do it better Effective leaders are clear about their purpose and role and stick to these.
What kind of questions would you suggest leaders ask themselves to check that they are practicing healthy and impactful leadership?
I would encourage leaders to reflect at the start or end of each week asking themselves; how am I doing? What can I do differently to enhance my impact? I would challenge them to every few months informally seek feedback from 3-6 people who will be honest and constructive so that they are not blinkered by their own perception. This will help them take small corrective actions often; which is easier than trying to make changes in one go.
What would you say has been your biggest transformation as a leader and how do you ensure you continue growing?
My own transformation has been a slow process over many years and it is not over yet. If there was one thing I had to choose it would be the sum of all the experiences I have had supporting leaders in their own growth. Leaders undervalue their experiences and many don’t feel confident trusting their instincts or common sense. Every leader I have worked with has been a teacher to me and this inspires me to keep learning and growing too. Client work, research and networking helps me stay up to date. Every year I do something that stretches my own development. I am in the first year of a 3-year part-time course in Spiritual direction, which I am loving and I have a new supervisor…this will keep me going for a while.
You’ve developed many leaders; when you look back on over 20 years of doing this, what makes you most proud and why?
Affirmation is important to me. When leaders tell me that my presence, knowledge, skills and experiences have enabled them to learn, develop, grow and enhance their impact and bring transformation, this is a proud moment for me.
What’s the best compliment you’ve been paid as a leader?
I am fortunate to have been on the receiving end of many compliments during the past 20+ years. When leaders compliment my authenticity, and tell me that my parents gave me the right name I feel honoured. It has taken a lot of work to become comfortable in my skin and with my name!
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