Saturday, July 21, 2012

Helping others learn to fly

In June 1996 I arrived at Her Majesty's Prison (HMP) Swaleside as a new Principal Officer (middle manager) having completed nearly three years as Senior Officer (first line manager) at HMP Maidstone. This was a time of intense personal development as I had also just commenced the Diploma in Management Studies with Brunel and I was eager to try my newly learned skills in this exciting new role. At that point I saw my career in 3 to 4 years chunks with a distant possibility of becoming a Governor before I retire.

The following October a new Governor took up post at Swaleside, John Podmore and he was to have a lasting impression on my career as well as my leadership style. John influenced many areas of my leadership and management style but I particularly remember how he enabled me to see I was capable of much more than I had previously realised. John saw in me far more potential and ability than I did and he very skilfully coached me to understand what I was capable of. In time I came to understand what John saw in me and the safe but steady career ambitions I arrived with were slowly replaced with a sense of anything was possible.

In order to get the very best out of our aspiring future leaders the people who coach and mentor them must be able to properly assess their full potential and understand their capabilities. It is then possible to stretch them, widening their horizons, supporting them to grow so that they start to believe they are capable of so much more. In the wrong hands or with a less skilled coach/mentor potential future leaders can be lost which is deeply damaging to them and can deprive firms of potentially high performers. 

As I progressed through the middle management ranks at Swaleside, John continued to develop my leadership skills through carefully managed projects covering strategic, organisational and cultural issues, all the time discussing the challenges I faced and how I could progress beyond them. I have looked back on that period with colleagues who were similarly influenced by John and who also progressed to senior management and we agreed that during that time we ‘learned to fly’. I left Swaleside in 2000 having qualified with distinction in my DMS and a renewed sense of belief that I could achieve my ultimate ambition to be a Governor. 

Four years later I took up my first post as Governor of HMYOI Rochester followed by posts as Governor of Swaleside and Maidstone prisons. I am in no doubt the seeds for my future success as a Governor were sown in that time with John when with the right encouragement and care he showed me what I was capable of.

I have tried in my career as a Governor to nurture and develop talent drawing on the my experience with John at Swaleside. I have mentored a number of managers who showed considerable potential and supported them through the journey to senior positions. In order to get good people you have to let good people go and I was fortunate enough to work with people who recognised this and so I have followed this with managers I have held in high regard working for me. By encouraging their development and helping to broaden their own horizons we arrive at the point where I can do no more for them and I then support the right move to continue the journey.

Stephen O'Connell

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