This blogpost was written by Sue David, Associate Director of Information Services (Library & Learning Services) at St George’s, for International Women’s Day 2021.
St George’s is lucky to have many inspirational women leaders who act as role models to the whole institution. Our Principal Jenny Higham, gives us an example of a woman who has made a mark in her field; a practicing clinician, leading a complex institution, with an amazing CV. She inspires confidence and trust, but remains approachable and compassionate. Alongside her in the Senior Leadership Team, Jane Saffell heads up Education with tireless energy, creativity and vision. Other women leaders at St George’s are many and bring their own skills and personalities to their roles.
In the field of librarianship I can look to colleagues who have truly inspired me and have had an impact on how I fulfil my role on a day to day basis. Liz Jolly, currently heading up the British Library is a loud advocate for services which genuinely meet users’ needs. Stella Butler (Leeds) and Chris Banks (Imperial) are strong voices for change in accessibility and access to resources. Within the University of London colleagues at some of the biggest institutions (King’s, City, LSE) work tirelessly to support their staff and deliver the best services they can within the budgets available to them.
What I hope I have gleaned from my encounters with these colleagues is that there is a huge range of skills and attributes that make a strong leader. There are plenty of important texts and articles, development programmes (the Aurora leadership programme was a particular highlight for me) and training opportunities (I would point to “Manager as Coach” which I attended this year), but I believe it is my networking with inspirational colleagues both within St George’s and in the wider community that has shaped my approach.
From my experience I have come to realise that a cornerstone for me is authenticity. I try to remain true to my values and to also encompass the St George’s CORE values (Commitment, Openness, Respect, Engagement) in how I lead my team. People are at the heart of everything I do and my greatest inspiration is my team. I value their enormous commitment, creativity and hard work. They inspire me to do the best job I can, represent them and our services fairly across the institution and raise the profile of our services wherever possible.
The key skills I have tried to develop to help me do this are emotional intelligence, empathy and an ability to listen. Enthusiasm and energy are also important to me and I hope to lead from the front, showing that I am willing to be on the front line when I am needed and not shy away from tasks which are difficult or outside my comfort zone. My door is always open and I hope that I welcome suggestions, innovation and change from wherever in the institution it may come.
Covid has really emphasised the need to be flexible – to be willing to take on new challenges and contribute to the whole institution’s response. This has involved engaging with colleagues I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to work with, learning from them and collaborating in our response, keeping our students’ and staffs’ best interests at heart.
Taking a leadership role can be daunting. Overcoming the feelings of inadequacy and developing confidence in your ability to do the best job you can in your own way takes time. Seeking support from both inside and outside the organisation, getting involved in activities which are challenging (chairing committees, involvement in external networks) and trusting your instincts go a long way to help. I think it is really important not to be afraid to make mistakes and to own those mistakes and learn from them. We are none of us perfect and can only do our best.
For me it is important that what I do enables others. I aim to help my team grow and develop their own skills and qualities, to help our students get the service they need and to help St George’s continue to be a caring, compassionate “family” that strives to do the best it can for everyone.