A masterclass with Baroness Sue Campbell, Director of Women’s Football, FA
Baroness Sue Campbell’s masterclass was packed full of inspiration and insight on how to lead through change. If you missed it, catch up here. We have distilled the key leanings of the webinar for you below and here is a full recording.
Leadership is about asking great questions
In this webinar, Baroness Sue Campbell gave us an insight into how she has led change in two very high profile organisations. She is the former Chair of UK Sport, the body which drove the transformation of our Olympic success from Atlanta in 2004 to London 2012. More recently, as part of the FA, she is overseeing the transformation of women’s football in this country.
Throughout her talk, what became apparent was that her success as a leader has been through the humility of asking questions. Indeed she remarked that “thinking you know all the answers is just foolish”.
So, what are the questions she has asked consistently through her career?
Do you truly have a moral purpose?
Sue has an “unswerving belief in the individual” and for her it’s all about pulling these individuals together toward a common mission. But too many leaders stop at business purpose, the transactional measures of success, without considering something much higher.
At UK Sport she drove a moral purpose, making sure that any young person with the desire to be the best could never turn around and say “what if I’d had had more support…”.
At the FA, the moral purpose has been to use the amazing game and brand of football to change the lives of girls and women.
Sue’s moral purpose was born out of her first job coaching netball in Moss Side, Manchester. This is where she realised, with a group of young girls, that she really could change lives through sport.
Does everyone really know the mission?
Sue is a firm believer in One Team, One Mission – that everyone in the organisation needs to understand the mission and see their role in it. Like the time-honoured story of the janitor at NASA, she realised the power of this when visiting the Ferrari Formula 1 team. She spoke at length to a member of the team who was knowledgeable and passionate before actually realising that he was one of the pit cleaners, not Michael Schumacher!
One of the core successes of UK Sport was how it drove a ‘one team’ mindset across a great number of individual teams, from ‘rowing to synchronised swimming.’
“It’s about constancy of purpose, getting everyone involved and engaged.”
What do you do and what could you do?
People perform when they feel a strong sense of freedom and ownership. When she arrived at UK Sport, Sue found too much potential being “locked up in hierarchical, tell and do cultures”.
She asked people three simple questions:
What do you do?
What could you do?
What is stopping you?
Sue shared a story of talking to a young woman at UK Sport who had been told by her boss to “produce leaflets”. She had so much value and ideas “trapped in her head” but she was just doing what she was instructed. These three questions are a brilliant tool to unlock attitude, release and discover ideas, and find out where the blocks are.
When you ‘fall off the beam’, how do you get back on?
When Beth Tweddle fell off the beam in Beijing the Olympic gymnast decided not to let it define her. Her resilience brought her an Olympic medal in London 2012. But it did more than that. Back to having a moral purpose, it “gave enormous confidence to women gymnasts” and the sport has gone from strength to strength because of Beth.
Sue reminded us, “We’ve all fallen off the beam from time to time…when it’s tough, I go back to my moral purpose. Can I make a marginal difference to a few people just by doing what I’m doing?”
Is your moral purpose backed up by moral intent?
It’s easy to stray off-purpose. When the going gets tough and the numbers are even more of a challenge, can you stand your ground or will you make decisions that undermine your moral credibility?
We hear this time and time again at Wavelength – people becoming demoralised because their execs say one thing about taking the moral decision and then actually do the opposite. It is up to us to “speak the truth to power” as one attendee questioned during the webinar.
Sue talked about bold discussions on funding with Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport at the time, holding the line on her purpose, stepping back to step forward, and occasionally needing a bottle of wine to fortify herself for the fight (oh, and coming away with the cash!).
Do you spend time understanding why others think they way they think?
As we lead change, we will always come across people who are in a fixed position. It’s easy to dismiss them, see them at fault, or as a pain in the backside. But do you really understand what is motivating them and can you work with it? Sue asks, “are you prepared to give them the time?”.
True change takes time and so do the most profound discussions. It takes time to properly understand that the easiest decision may not actually be the best one.
“Who makes the decisions for them when they are on the field?”
Sue confesses that her original approach to coaching was “shouting at them loud from the bench, getting flustered and animated, then shouting louder”. Telling them what to do in training so they could just go and do it in the pressure of the match. Jim Greenwood, the former England rugby coach, suggested a different way to her – nurturing the team’s ability to make their own decisions “on the field”. It’s an approach based on asking questions rather than giving answers.
We have heard before on the Wavelength Connect programme that leadership is much more about the asking great questions than thinking you have to give great answers. We are all driven by ego, and that ego tells us we have to add value, and value in leadership has historically been ‘knowing what to do’. In Sue’s case, the value is clearly ‘knowing what to ask!’