Leadership Journey Reflections & Tips

Ian Findlay, Chief Officer of Paths for All reflects on his leadership journey and shares his learnings and tips...


I’m Chief Officer of the national charity Paths for All. It’s my first Chief Officer role, which I’ve been privileged to hold for the last 12 years. Before joining PfA I held various middle and senior management positions in both the third and public sectors.

Over the last 20 years I’ve been on an inspiring, and at times challenging, leadership journey. The journey has taken me from seeing myself principally as a manager, to being a more of a leader.

I’d like to share some of my personal reflections and key learning points from the journey to date. None of the points are earth-shattering or ground-breaking, but they do nevertheless chime with and inspire me. Hopefully some of them may do the same for you:

  1. Be aware of your essence
    Understand yourself, what makes you tick and what motivates you. Be faithful to this.
  2. Play to your strengths
    By all means be aware of and manage your weaknesses, but most importantly play to your strengths. Playing to your strengths and supporting others to do so is much more productive and rewarding.
  3. Maintain your integrity
    Do this at all costs. Doing what you honestly think is right is always best, even it turns out to be wrong! People are more likely to respect and trust you.
  4. Champion your organisation’s vision
    It is the leader’s job to sell the vision, internally as well as externally.
  5. Be the change you want
    A key element of leadership is successfully managing change and encouraging others to want to follow you. This is best done if you live and breathe the change you want to bring about.
  6. Be a confident leader
    This can be a challenging one, but evidence shows that leaders are most creative when they are relaxed and in an alert state.
  7. Be a versatile leader
    Apply different dimensions of leadership at different times and be able to read situations to know which type is most appropriate.
  8. Be a motivational leader
    Again another challenging one for many leaders, including me.  Helping people to feel valued is so important.
  9. Waste time productively
    Leaders tend to be very busy people. However, creating time to check-in with staff and volunteers is vital - check your staff before your emails!
  10. Be aware of the virtue of dullness
    I remember hearing this from a management guru and being somewhat comforted by it. Much is made of the need for leaders to be charismatic and big personalities. While I accept this can be important, a good rounded leader also has to ensure that the organisation they lead is functioning well.
  11. Protect time to think about ‘how’
    We spend a lot of time dealing with stuff and content. Finding time to think about how best to do things is essential and can often save time in the long run.
  12. Peer support is invaluable
    I can’t underestimate the importance of this, and of organisations such as ACOSVO. I can honestly say that chats with peers have probably been the single most important factor in my leadership journey.
  13. Look after yourself!
    I’ve left this point to last, as it’s probably the most important one.  Looking after yourself sounds selfish, especially in a leadership context. It’s not. Being a member of a mountain rescue team and foster carer for many years, it was constantly drummed into me that I must look after myself in order to assist others. The same applies to leadership. The best leaders are those who have learnt to do this, and who feel comfortable about looking after themselves.

At the beginning of this blog I referred to the above as learning points and aspirations. However, most of them are and probably always will be aspirations that I’m trying to work towards. I feel they have helped me, but I still have a long journey ahead of me. I’m comfortable with that, as a good leadership journey is exactly that -  a journey that doesn’t end!