How can leaders nurture such ambitious – but also loyal – teams? Emma has been able to connect with individuals using an innate, empathetic approach. With empathy becoming a hot-button topic of current conversation, it’s important to note that this trait embodies not only learning and understanding, but also being bright enough to understand challenges and how an individual team member’s own struggles may impact the team as a whole – whether to its benefit or its detriment. Drawing the line between empathising with employees whilst also guarding against carrying too much emotional weight is the leader’s remit. Emma explains her approach to walking the line between being approachable and being too remote as a leader below.
“[. . .] because you’re driven and you’re focussed and you know what needs doing and you always seem to be on top of stuff and you can kind of manage multiple things, [. . .] it’s important that people can see that you’re not always that [unapproachable] person and that actually you can have a laugh and you can understand when things in their lives are not going well and you can give them top advice and you kind of support them”.
In creating this family-like atmosphere within her teams, Emma values those who take risks – and as we’ve explored, those leaders who are willing to take risks can spearhead innovative brand strategies with big rewards. Enabling employees to contribute has enabled Emma’s teams to gain even more confidence over time, as they know they can safely pitch ideas and ask questions without fear of judgment from peers or superiors. With these anonymised systems in place, Emma explains how much she values those willing to take a risk, noting that she appreciates people who are willing to have the courage of their convictions. [. . .] I really value folk who put their head above the parapet, throw ideas into the mix and aren’t afraid to also push back.’
As a prolific leader, Emma is a perfect example of such a risk-taker: personally astute, Emma is acutely aware of the need to meet new challenges head-on when the time arrives. As her teams grow, become incredibly efficient, and then move onwards and upwards to other institutions or industries, Emma feels the pull towards something new. This lifecycle is a personal point of pride, but as an intuitive leader, Emma realises when a new challenge is needed, always chasing what’s fresh after achieving the impossible.
“I’ve pretty much seen and done everything from riots and big turnaround jobs in Bradford where we were literally the bottom in terms of applications, everything, and we achieved I think 17% above aspirational target after that which is nothing short of a miracle. [. . .] It’s all about challenges, and it’s about people”.
With the backing of her incredible teams and her love of a new challenge, Emma is brought into new roles to deal with difficult scenarios. With the leadership knowledge and experience of building teams of first-class professionals and a real understanding that leaders are paid to lead, a multi-level approach to solving problems becomes incredibly effective. Emma explains how the building blocks of people and strategy combine to bring an institution out of the weeds:
“I’m usually brought in to do some kind of turnaround or transformation piece or deal with some tough old challenges or rebuild a team, [. . .] quite often they’re jobs where angels would potentially fear to tread sometimes (it’s fair to say) but the thing that I love about them is that I’m usually able to quite quickly spot the gaps, know what needs fixing. Yes, I can do the high-level strategic stuff but I’m also really able to see how you translate that operationally and what you need to do with the people”.
Influencing both its people and its strategy, university leaders such as Emma inevitably have a big impact on the culture and success of the institution itself – an exciting but daunting responsibility. Without the backing of successful teams, such visionary leaders might not see their ideas fully take flight. Holding on to ‘the art of the possible’ by taking contributions and ideas from all levels within a supportive space helps to build a brand from the inside out. Emma explains how – as a leader – she manages to marry executive goals with the daily intricacies and minutiae required to actually reach them.
“Part of my job is to be able to be the glue between high-level objectives and then also how are we going to get there? What do we need to do? And to be able to see all those plates spinning and to keep them spinning and to make sure that I’m constantly picking up on seeing something and connecting the dots.”
With a multi-faceted oversight and understanding of the institution, its challenges and its people, leaders like Emma play a pivotal role in establishing meaning and – subsequently – brand. Emma’s multi-faceted and empathetic approach to leadership has proven very effective, and her personal dedication to the sector highlights the continuing importance of higher education and its impact on the world, putting true gusto behind both marketing and branding.
“Education is so transformative, both in terms of student experience and the freedom that that gives individuals, but also in terms of the research and the impact of research from universities on society and globally that it was something I just really wanted to do and I think that passion translates”.
Dedicated leaders may find that ideas will flow more freely throughout the team – no matter the seniority of its members – when they nurture a supportive atmosphere with collaboration at its centre as Emma has done throughout her career. A collective sense of excitement and energy will contribute to a united brand strategy that is pivotal to its success, as we’ve explored in our Breaking Barriers to Brand series.
If you would like to explore how you can take your leadership to the next level by building high-performing teams to help supercharge your strategy and brand from the ground up, get in touch with us here at The Brand Education. We offer thought leadership and workshops and we’re always excited to hear from you.