In praise of: steadiness

This is the first in a series of blogs by ACEVO head of member support Tom Andrews. It’s a series about words. Not any old words, but words that exemplify human strengths. What are the characteristics that serve us as leaders and as people?

This is not intended to be a definitive list or a sermon, it is more of an exploration and celebration. It’s also something that I’d like to invite you to contribute to.

The seeds of this series have come from conversations with leaders and members of ACEVO, as well as my own interest and experience in this area. While conversations with members often focus on problems and challenges, there is also an acknowledgement of how our personal – and universal strengths – can support positive change. This blog is an exploration of some of these virtues.

Our part is to pursue with steadiness what is right, turning neither to right nor left for the intrigues or popular delusions of the day, assured that the public approbation will in the end be with us.

Thomas Jefferson

Jim: (holds up right hand) ‘Look at that’

Bart: ‘Steady as a rock’.

Jim: ‘Yeah, but I shoot with this hand.’ (holds up left hand, shaking)

Blazing Saddles

Steadiness

  • The quality of being controlled, and not faltering or wavering.
  • The quality of being sensible, reliable, and self-restrained.
  • Behaviour that is reasonable and shows good judgment, so that people trust you.
  • Derived from the Middle English in the sense ‘unwavering, without deviation’.

Leadership is often associated with the characteristics of charisma, passion, and inspiration. But over the last few weeks I have noticed other words cropping up time and time again in my conversations with ACEVO members: the need for consistency, clarity, reliability, trust, and steadiness. And to be able to communicate this steadiness to others.

When the world is changing and uncertain, it seems like there is a real call for steadiness.

Steadiness is not flamboyant or showy. It is like a fixed point on a landscape, a way marker for others to note and take their lead from, particularly in times of crisis. I remember during my coaching and counselling training I was struck by the emphasis on the need for boundaries and steadiness. When an individual is in turmoil, when their life is uncertain and up in the air, a steady, empathetic, and honest presence is the starting point for trust and then change.

Consistency is an important element – having stable routines, clear rules, balance, and fairness – and so is perseverance, the virtue of keeping going when things are tough. As John F Kennedy explained on a warm and sunny September day in 1962, “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. Steadiness in the face of adversity is not easy, it takes resolution, self-confidence to be steady in the heart of the storm, and this is when we really learn.

A leader’s perpective

By Annie Warburton, Chief Executive, Cockpit Arts

For me, the kind of steadiness I think of is like the keel of a boat.  It means that in fierce winds or choppy seas, sails might be close-hauled, travelling at full tilt, but the centreboard keeps balance as one pursues one’s course. 

So in other words, for me, steadiness involves knowing where you’re going – knowing the course and direction, and responding to the environment in order to get there, taking into account the capabilities of the crew – both their skills and their qualities as people, where they’re comfortable, when to challenge them to step up, when to reassure, when to recognise they need a rest.

My personal style is to be as clear and transparent as possible. My team have fed back to me that they’ve appreciated that I’ve talked them through each decision and they understand why I’ve made it and what I’ve taken into account – which has always included their perspectives. Equally, I’ve been transparent about the places where I don’t yet know the decision – i.e. I’ve been comfortable in the not knowing which has, in turn, allowed them to find steadiness in the not knowing.

Steadiness has also been about putting in place a clear rhythm. I’ve made a point each week to articulate what we’ve done, the decisions we’ve made, the steps we’ve taken – to acknowledge how fast we’ve gone, how different things are.  It’s my view that a good part of being a leader is about storytelling and meaning-making, and I’ve practiced that consciously.

So, for me, steadiness is very different from fixed-ness, it’s about knowing who you are, what you stand for, where you’re going and staying true to that whilst responsive to what’s happening.

Photo by Rene Böhmer on Unsplash

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