Wednesday 31 August 2011

Leader interview - Alex Jacobs on goals, performance and listening

Alex was the founding Director of Mango, a UK charity that is the leading international provider of financial management services to NGOs. He has played a leadership role in aid work on the ground as well as in efforts to improve the accountability of aid agencies. His blog,, provides expert commentary on managing the performance of NGOs. Alex is about to take up the position of Director of Programming and Effectiveness for Plan International, the UK's largest aid agency.

1. What is the key to great leadership?

Setting ambitious but realistic goals and knowing - or working out - how to achieve them. Bringing people together behind the shared endeavour, making sure each person's contribution is valued. Living the values you want to encourage in others: commitment, compassion, customer service, listening, considered judgement and an endless desire to understand and improve.

2. What is the secret of motivating a team?

Making sure everyone believes in what you aim to achieve together and knows what is expected of them. Creating personal incentives that are aligned with overall goals. Providing people with the space to get on and do their jobs. Constantly creating opportunities for communication across the team. Celebrating good performance and dealing with poor performance.

3. What is the most important lesson you have learned?

Listen first. As a leader, resisting the temptation to start a conversation by offering advice or jumping to conclusions. Listen carefully to what people have to say and demonstrate that you value their views. Then take a decision, considering what they say but not necessarily bound by it.

4. What are the key ingredients of success in business development?

Develop great products that your clients want and set stretching strategic goals. Recruit people who share your goals and values. Nurture the team. In the charity sector, build alliances and collaboration with others working in your field, not enmity and opposition.

5. What book(s) would you like everyone to read?

The Elements of Styleby Strunk and White. It's a bible of how to write clear English.

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