Sir Steve’s Blog – March 2023

Sir Steve Lancashire is Chair of Forum Strategy’s National #TrustLeaders CEO network. He also provides mentoring for CEOs across our network and on the Being The CEO programme. Here is his latest monthly blog for our members and partners.

Principle, Purpose, People…

When it comes to leadership, we all have bees in our bonnet about certain things. Mine is making sure that what we do as a CEO matches our pay grade and the responsibilities bestowed upon us as leaders at this level, including trying to meet the expectations (quite rightly) staff and communities have of someone operating at this level. It’s something that I constantly ask those I’m mentoring for Forum Strategy and beyond, to reflect upon. It’s not an arrogant ‘those types of  tasks are below us’ kind of thing,  more a recognition that as the most senior executive in an organisation we should be doing those things that add the most value, that make the most difference, and that deliver more bang for the bucks.

It was John West Burnham who first helped me explore this and, in our coaching sessions when I first became CEO, encouraged me to focus much more on the strategic aspects of the role and to ‘do’ a lot less operational type activity. To lead more, manage less, and administrate as little as possible. We developed a neat little matrix to help me consolidate my understanding of this and to use with other leaders in the organisation to exemplify what we meant. This was 12 years ago but I still swear by it today.

We based this matrix on the principle that there is a continuum. At one end of this continuum sits ‘leadership’, at the other end ‘administration’, and in the middle, ‘management’. Thereby defining the type of activities that we can spend our time on.

We exemplified these activities by thinking about the principle of each, the purpose of each and how this related to people.  The principle that sits behind leadership is doing the right things, the purpose is path making and with people, it is engaging with the complexity of any given situation. In management, the principle is doing things right, the purpose is to follow the path and for people, we seek to create clarity. At the far right of the continuum, administration, the principle and purpose is simply doing things and path tidying and with people, it is about securing consistency. We didn’t make this a hierarchy or use a pyramid model, preferring a continuum, in recognition that at times all of these are valid activities that those in leadership positions do. We did, however, and I still do, maintain that the more time we spend on ‘leadership’ type activities, the more we sit at the left of the continuum, doing the right thing, finding the path, engaging with people and complexity, the more likely we are to be effective in the roles we hold. The more likely we are to add value to our organisation, to help it fulfil its vision and mission.


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