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Building trusted relationships - leadership series interview 4
[RMIT ORGANISATIONAL DEVELOPMENT MANAGER ERIN FREEMAN TALKS TO DR RON WAKEFIELD, DEAN, SCHOOL OF PROPERTY CONSTRUCTION AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND DEPUTY PRO VICE-CHANCELLOR INTERNATIONAL, ON A SPLIT-SCREEN VIDEO CALL]
[ERIN FREEMAN IS SHOWN SEATED IN AN OFFICE AND SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO CAMERA]
So, thank you for joining me Ron, it's a pleasure to have you with me today. I wanted to start with a quote, which is "cultivating trust by setting clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and then getting out of their way". That's the quote we are leading with when we are talking about instilling trust. And I wondered if you could just talk to that for a minute for me?
[PROFESSOR RON WAKEFIELD IS SHOWN SEATED IN AN OFFICE AND SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO CAMERA]
So, Erin, I think from my perspective, I haven't consciously tried to cultivate trust. But I think over a long period, I've tried to really focus on being an authentic leader. So, saying what I'm going to do, and then following through and doing what I've said. So, the idea for me has been that people know where the School is trying to go and they get-- I guess, they can come to me with an issue that they need to have solved. And they'll know exactly how I'm going to react, or they'll have a good idea about how I'm going to react. Not always, I might not always react the same way, but they have a fair idea of what the guiding principles that I'm operating under.
And I think, you know, they also know my ethical stance around some of these things. So, that also, I hope, gives them confidence to trust in me as a leader. But I think, similarly, I need to trust in them as a part-- as a member of our team. And I think that's the way I like to go about operating, is to really try to set the direction with the person, and then trust them to deliver on that direction.
Yeah. Could I pick up on that sort of delivering on that direction, because at the moment we know that things are pretty heavily disrupted and we were talking earlier about the fact that there's different groups of people experiencing different things at the moment. How have you been working with that and acknowledging that there are different effects for different people?
Well, just try-- I think from my perspective, it's trying to empathise with those different people and where they are at their stage in their career. So, we've got a lot of young staff who have joined us in the last few years who at the beginning of their academic career. Often they have young families. And for them, it's a very difficult time at the moment caring for their families and working from home at the same time. We've also got a group of midcareer people that have high school aged children that are really requiring a lot of support around their teaching. So, I just try to think about what it was like for me and my career at that time and how I would have tried to deal with these things and try to understand what those pressures are and provide support for people to deal with those pressures.
So, try to be understanding about their difficulty with timing, around the difficulty they might have with finding time to do their marking. And also, the most probably difficult part of our work is when we are actually giving a live lecture and our families are in the same house. That even occurs to me at the moment. My daughter had to come back from the UK where she was studying. She is still working online on some of her Master's degree, my wife is doing telehealth for her practice. As so, it's like we are a bit crazy in terms of the internet at our place. But try and understand that and being able to give people support. Admittedly, it's mostly moral support at this time, because that's pretty much all we have.
But having it so they can contact you and get advice and get help around the technology, around their teaching and around the pressures they're under. Most of them are really conscientious about delivering is what I've found. Our School has moved completely online very quickly. And I really-- I really appreciate the support our staff have given in terms of doing that. I know it's been a terrible lot of work for them, but they've done a fantastic job. In a way, for me as a leader, that's really inspiring to see that level of effort that people have made. And for some of the teams, it's brought them together much closer as a team. So, that's been interesting to observe as well.
Yeah, you are seeing increased collegiality.
Yeah, in teams that probably didn't display much of that before or, you know, display not much. That's probably being a bit ungenerous, but displaying, you know, just a normal working relationship. Some of those teams have come much closer and now are probably the closest teams in our school, which is pretty weird to observe.
Yeah. So, you mentioned-- you talked about people kind of contacting you to talk about what's happening for them. What do you think it is that makes a leader approachable like that?
I've got no idea. You know, I just think-– so what I've been doing, I guess, is trying to reach out to the School like on a weekly basis. Admittedly for the few-- through the first few weeks of working from home, I turned out at least a weekly email to everyone with some discussion about what was happening, about what I was doing. But also, urging them to contact me with my mobile number there if they needed to. And that's probably trying to show you are approachable. Although I know some people think I'm not approachable. I could give you a few people in our School who think I'm not approachable. But they'll still approach, it's not that bad, but I think they make jokes about it. About my--
It's horses for courses.
-- my social awkwardness.
Join the club, I have a lot of that, I can empathise with that.
So, I've been very happy with some of the social distancing. It means I don't have to hug people or do any of those types of things, which is like a breath of fresh air for me.
You've got a no hugging policy.
I have that generally, but some people--
Yeah, me too.
Some people don't like that or something else. So, this has been a really-- that's been a really good thing that's come out.
And that such an interesting thing to comment on, because at my old workplace, there was a running joke that I'm in organisational development, but I am not a hugger, I have quite a large need for space. And so, for me, at the moment, socialisation is really comfortable. Aside from the kids keeping me up half the night and the volume of work that's having to be kind of condensed and increase in intensity. But the actual sort of not having to play to some of those normal social rules is almost a bit of a relief for me. And I feel a little bit guilty about that, because I know there are other people who are absolutely desperate to get around people again and need that people interaction for their energy, but I am a classic introverted that is quite happy with my books.
So, we always make jokes in our family about that book, the Rosie Project and how maybe that could be about me.
Well, I really appreciate your time this morning, Ron. I know that you are sitting on lots of meetings at the moment and suffering that, what is it? Zoom doom that we are all sort of getting a bit fatigued being online now. So, I do appreciate it. But take care, and I appreciate the chat.
Okay, thanks a lot.