Leaders need feedback and time to think

4 October 2012

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4 October 2012 | Paul Snell

Leaders should ensure they take time to think and ensure they receive feedback, according to the former head of the security service.

Speaking at the CIPS President's Dinner last night, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, who was director general of MI5 between 2002 and 2007, said there were two methods she used to learn from her mistakes.

"I am deeply suspicious of leaders who believe they are omniscient and know it all. I made plenty of mistakes, but there are two ways I hoped I learned from them," she told the audience of CPOs and senior procurement professionals. "One of them was making it clear to colleagues – including junior people – that I welcomed feedback, including critical feedback, and they gave it to me.

"The second thing I did was, at the end of each week, I would deliberately reflect on the week, what I had got right and what I had got wrong."

Reflecting on the advice she was given to "get enough sleep" when she took up her role, she said: "I would add to that, get enough sleep and have time to think. When I saw some of my European colleagues, they were on the telephone barking instructions and running around like demented rabbits. Actually – and I'm sure this applies to you – take time to reflect, to be quiet, to think how you have done, how things have gone, make sure you get feedback."

She also explained how she led MI5 during what was a period of "great stress". "What I thought was very important to focus on was making people feel wanted, supported and valued. I wanted to make sure everybody knew they weren't in that alone," she said.

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