What I’ve learned so far on my journey as a ‘senior leader’

2 April 2024
Ahead of our Ordinary Extraordinary Leaders Conference in May, Victoria Russell – Project Manager at Community First Yorkshire – talks about her return to work in 2021, taking on her first ‘senior leader’ role, how she’s overcoming her feelings of being an ‘imposter’ and what she’s learned on her journey so far.

Cast your mind back to the Spring of 2021, when lockdowns were lifting, and we were slowly emerging into the new world that awaited us after the Covid pandemic. During this time, I was finding my way not only as a new mum, but also as a new ‘senior leader’. I was returning to the world of work to a new sector, new challenges and new responsibilities. Full transparency here – I wasn’t sure I was competent enough to take on any of those things.

Questioning whether I was experienced enough to be a ‘leader’

Even so, I threw myself into the excitement of my new role, with the added bonus of having a lunch break in relative peace and quiet. I was (and still am!) very lucky to have become the leader of a team of wonderful, kind and considerate people which, as I’m sure you will know, the VCSE sector is full of. But that didn’t stop me from questioning whether I was experienced enough to be a ‘leader’: someone that people look up to, seek guidance from and go to for answers to those tough questions and make the difficult calls.

Throwing myself into development opportunities

I decided the only way to overcome my feelings of being an ‘imposter’ was to throw myself into any development opportunities available. Fast forward a few months and I took part in a development course for senior leaders in the North of England, which gave me the chance to discuss these challenges with leaders from various sectors, gain new perspectives and hear from some of the top leaders in the country. I was also fortunate enough to benefit from one-to-one coaching from the Humber and North Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership.

Here are three things I’ve learnt on my journey so far:

  • We are all winging it. The CEOs, the top executives, those that have started their own business. Even those that look like they have got it all ‘together’. We are all human and imperfect. I realised it was OK not to have all the answers immediately, to ask for time to consider a response and to get things wrong!
  • The things that you think hold you back can be your strengths. Can I carry a tiny human, load the washing machine, eat a sandwich and make a phone call all at the same time? Yes, I can. Do I use all these skills at work? Not on a typical day. My point is, I thought becoming a mum would hold me back in the world of work, but actually, it’s enabled me to become incredibly efficient, a problem-solver who is always looking to do things smarter.
  • We are stronger together. Through developing Community First Yorkshire’s wellbeing programme for leaders within the VCSE sector, I saw first-hand not only how taking time out in nature can help you refresh, reframe and refocus but also the value of being vulnerable, and both asking for and giving support to others. The support we need is out there – sometimes we just need to take a pause and grant ourselves the opportunities we need to grow.
We need to pause and grant ourselves opportunities to grow

This is exactly what our Ordinary Extraordinary Leaders conference will offer on 22 May – time to pause, reflect and learn from others. I was looking at what’s planned the other day (as I was juggling the tiny human while eating my dinner, funnily enough!) and with the theme of generosity, there’s going to be so much going on to challenge and inspire.

What am I most looking forward to? Most definitely chatting to JK McQuinn from Where the Mind Grows about leadership wellbeing, and hearing from a real leadership specialist in the form of Major General Zac Stenning OBE as he shares his wealth of experience.

It will be such a treat to be with other leaders willing to share their time, experience and honesty. My leadership journey is just starting, but its events like this that will really help me learn and grow into my leadership role.

Find out more about the Ordinary Extraordinary Leaders conference on 22 May and book your seat here.