Why I believe you need a professional Circle of Support around you

By Michelle Hill
08 February 2019

Being a social leader can be a lonely place at times.

In my role, as Chief Executive of TLC: Talk, Listen, Change, I sit between our Board of Trustees and our Senior Leadership Team. I work closely with both teams (and feel blessed by good relationships with both) but I am not part of either.

That’s ok – because that’s what my role should be, but it can be lonely at times.

We’ve been through a turbulent few years as a charity, with disaffiliation from a national Federation, a tough first year out on our own and now a second year full of opportunities and growth. It’s been full of highs and lows – a real roller coaster of a journey.

I’ve loved it (most of the time) but don’t think I could have done it without my professional circle of support around me.

"It might sound like I have it cracked now – a ready made circle of support around me, but it wasn’t like that a couple of years ago"
Michelle Hill

At TLC: Talk, Listen, Change we believe that safe, healthy and happy relationships need the following component parts:

  • Mutual Respect means treating someone else right and honourably, seeing others as priorities and relating without name calling, threatening or abuse of any kind.
  • Give and Take is the interdependence that leads to deeper and more nuanced understandings, it is seeing a relationship as an opportunity to give and to serve someone else.
  • Trust is built by communicating honestly with someone else, this means always saying what is really inside us and listening when others do the same. Communicating transparently reduces the chance of misunderstandings that can undermine relationships and potential conflicts because no one has to guess, make up stories or be responsible for quizzing someone else.
  • Patience means giving someone else space, thereby respecting their needs in a way that supports them.
  • Shared Purpose Always recognising and working towards a shared purpose, with shared key values.

My professional circle of support shares those key component parts too – because, all circles of support must be safe, healthy and happy.

On Monday, I was fortunate enough to attend the Clore Social Leadership and Social Change Agency conference called Leading the Movement: Women, Power, Change. To be surrounded by a room full of inspirational female leaders was motivating and challenging and I left enthused for the next steps of my journey.

But the real power, for me, came in the meeting of part of my circle that evening.

7 of us went out for dinner after the event, all Clore Social Fellows who completed our Fellowship Programme in 2017. We shared the highs and lows of our last few months, drew strength from each other, offered a non-judgmental, impartial listening ear and I went away feeling stronger and uplifted.

The following day, I went to my first ACEVO event since becoming a member, a special interest group for Women in Leadership. I saw people that I knew through my day job and people that I admire through twitter. The best bit, again, was the opportunity to have open and honest conversations, sharing what we’ve learnt and offering advice to each other. All done in a spirit of trying to build others up.  

"We’ve been through a turbulent few years as a charity. It’s been full of highs and lows – a real roller coaster of a journey"
Michelle Hill

Last week, I went out for tea and drinks with a colleague I’ve met whilst building a collaborative partnership between both our organisations. In our day jobs we work together, delivering a shared service through our integrated teams. That evening, we were friends, sharing our day to day challenges about recruitment, management, deadlines and both being working mums. The joy in knowing that you can have people around you in the same (or similar) situations, that you can lean on, learn from and laugh with is priceless.

It might sound like I have it cracked now – a ready made circle of support around me, but it wasn’t like that a couple of years ago.

I was lonely as a social leader, at times overwhelmed and wracked with doubts.

I realised I had to do something about it before I cracked under the pressure and I set off specifically to do just that.

I applied for a Clore Social Leadership Fellowship, I joined ACEVO and I pushed myself out of my comfort zones, to be honest about my vulnerabilities and suggest lunches with colleagues I respected.

And now, I feel so much better. Happier in my day to day work, supported and challenged by amazing peers, and secure in the knowledge that I have people I can turn too if I need to.

And (I think) it’s made me a better social leader too.

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