Cross-sector perspectives on developing leadership traits for a complex world | WIG Article

In today’s complex environment, effective leaders need to be able to work collaboratively, navigate fast-moving circumstances and engage stakeholders with ease. To do this, they need self-awareness, confidence, and the ability to understand the perspectives of others. 

Exposure to fresh sets of ideas or environments – such as through mentoring, being mentored, or going on secondment – helps leaders hone these traits.  

Leaders from across sectors share how their experience engaging with outside perspectives helped them grow the versatile mindset needed for the modern working world.  

Key Takeaways:  

  • Cross-sector approach helps focus on underlying fundamentals of approach 
  • Exposure to diversity of thought leads to seeing more possibilities 
  • Enhanced self-awareness and self-acceptance increases confidence  
  • Gaining a wider perspective helps you better understand your own role and impact

A mentorship increases self-acceptance needed for successful collaboration 

Mike Birch, Director of Supervision at the Pensions Regulator (TPR), entered into a cross-sector mentoring relationship as a mentee to help increase his confidence, collaborate more effectively, and communicate a clear vision for his team. The cross-sector approach helped him see underlying fundamentals that can be applied widely.  

Accept yourself to better collaborate with others 

“One of the key objectives I had was to improve the way I collaborate with others. Having worked for most of my career in settings that encouraged personal responsibility and relatively solitary delivery, becoming more collaborative was a critical skill to enable me to be a more effective leader.  

“Learning to welcome the strength that comes from accepting my personal limitations and not being put off by my own vulnerabilities was a key breakthrough. Having a mentor that I trusted, allowed me to be open about what was limiting me and to recognise those factors as universal and, actually, as healthy.” 

“Learning to welcome the strength that comes from accepting my personal limitations and not being put off by my own vulnerabilities was a key breakthrough.” 
Identify the fundamentals to repeat success 

“Mentoring enables me to think about my challenges in a way that is not situation specific. Rather than being caught in the specific manifestation of a challenge and considering a tactical response to it, mentoring forces me to think about the underlying fundamentals of the issue and, importantly, what is it personally that I find difficult about addressing it. By lifting issues up in this way, I have found approaches that I can apply repeatedly to future issues.” 


Focus on your values and understand your role 

“My mentoring relationship has given me far greater confidence in my abilities and helped me have greater perspective and focus on how to be most effective. I have had two key learnings. We spent a lot of time discussing how my values informed my leadership style. Consciously focussing on this has made me far more confident in my approach. Secondly, constantly asking myself the question of what role I have in any particular workstream, what the team needs from me and maximising their part of it, has meant that I am more effective and empower my team, with far better results overall.”   

Commit to the process 

“We all have an element of pretence in our professional lives – presenting a more accomplished face to the world than we feel underneath. Recognise that the more open you are about your own perceived limitations and challenges, the more you will find that they are pretty universal and you will find ways to overcome them.” 

Read more about Mike Birch’s experience in a mentoring relationship in this reflection alongside his mentor.  

Being a mentor helps develop self-awareness and see wider possibilities 

Ameet Shah, Senior Advisor at Accenture, describes how being a mentor leads to personal growth and awareness through the reflective process.  

Develop a more objective perspective of yourself 

When you mentor others, it is inevitable that you reflect on your own choices and dilemmas, and when you are providing objective advice to others, it is much easier to gain that objective perspective on yourself - the great decisions that you made and all the mistakes. And when one empathises with the natural tendencies of others to do things that are not always in their interest, it is easier to cut yourself some slack as well."

“Ultimately, we all need to see ourselves for what we are, accept that we are human and make the changes that we can make. When you help others to do that, it is inevitable that it happens to you as well. Mentoring is a two-way process. Both mentor and mentee get the perspective that helps them learn and develop.” 

Increase your idea of what is possible  

“It is all about perspective. We all operate in environments where we implicitly accept 'how things work around here' and are not always clear whether that is how it must be or whether we are doing that out of history and habit. Talk to someone from a different sector where different rules apply, it is inevitable that they will ask 'why' and 'why not'. Part of mentoring is to increase the universe of options and possibilities - for your organisation and for yourself. You will get much more diversity of thought from someone outside the organisation and that stimulus is part of the dialogue.” 

“Part of mentoring is to increase the universe of options and possibilities - for your organisation and for yourself.” 
Accomplish more by working with others 

“I have learned to listen deeper, ask for help, and work collaboratively to explore answers. For too long, I tried to do it all myself and I now wonder why. It is so much more fun and so much easier when you work positively with people to solve issues and move forward.” 

Learn more: Watch WIG’s webinar exploring the value of cross-sector mentoring featuring Ameet Shah and his mentee Paul Stimson, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor MC Unit, CPS London North.   

Secondment renews sense of purpose and confidence 

Jaswant Narwal was seconded into the nonprofit Oxfam from her job as Chief Crown Prosecutor for Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for six months. During that time, she developed a wider perspective that renewed her sense of purpose and confidence in her role.   

Obtain a clearer view of yourself  

“Seconding into another organisation gave me a wider perspective of the work I do and the work of others. The experience especially helped me to learn more about myself as a leader and my own personal leadership style. Being out of your comfort zone, you have to consider more carefully your impact on others who you do not know at all or have not worked with before. It gave me a more focused sense of what was important when collaborating with others and a deeper understanding of my role as a senior leader.”  

Get a refreshed sense of purpose by seeing the wider context  

“It has strengthened my leadership skills in nuanced and more subtle ways. I came back to my department refreshed and with a deeper sense of purpose. Even though a lot had not changed in my time away, I could see things differently when I came back. I learnt that my skills as a senior lawyer and as a senior leader in the CPS were easily transferable to the charity sector and any other sector. Neither self-imposed limitations nor limitations placed by others should ever be a barrier to growing yourself ever.” 

“Even though a lot had not changed in my time away, I could see things differently when I came back.” 
Gain confidence by going outside your comfort zone 

“Working outside your industry will give you a renewed sense of confidence by testing you in a new environment and you draw on all that stored experience and expertise that you have not had to perhaps call on before or haven’t used for a while. It also re-energised me to start thinking about new opportunities and new challenges and not just in my professional life.” 

Read Jaswant Narwal's blog series describing her secondment experience.  

WIG offers a suite of talent and leadership development services that are specifically created for individuals to learn, collaborate and grow from the outsights enabled by cross-sector collaboration. Learn more about our mentoring and secondment services.  


Originally published: