12 steps to becoming a great leader

Whether you want to improve your own general leadership skills or help to bring them out in others, be inspired

Jessica Feehan
27 Mar 2017

Just starting out or a confident pro - there's always more to learn about supporting and developing others

By the end of these 12 steps, you'll know how to expand your skills (and make the most of what you already have!) to be a fantastic leader.

1. Believe in yourself

Remember: you are awesome. By staying positive, trusting yourself, and not being afraid to ask for help, you can set a great example. And keep in mind that it’s OK to fail – it’s part of learning.

Why not encourage your girls to acknowledge when they’ve tried and fallen short? Ask them to share an example and what they learned, then give them a round of applause. This can boost their confidence, and help quieter members thrive.

I saw an ad for Girlguiding’s Great Wall of China trek at a time when I was very low. I’m excited, but I sometimes panic: am I really up to the challenge? I tell myself even if I don’t succeed, I’ll still have done my best! – Sandra Sprague, Leader, 1st Chippenham Brownies

2. Embrace opportunity

Good leaders make an effort to constantly brush up on their abilities. We’re always amazed at the enthusiasm with which our volunteers take on new challenges, which is why we offer extensive and varied development opportunities to do so.

See what’s available to help you be the best you can be – and use tools like the Doing Our Best Quality Standards to evaluate your knowledge. If you work with units, our guidance on planning your programme has plenty of ideas on how to involve girls in giving feedback and sharing ideas for improvement.

I got involved in the Quality Pilot because I think my unit provides a great experience for girls. It’s an opportunity to have that verified by someone else, to say to parents, 'You can leave your girls with us and know they’ll have a brilliant time.' And we’ll also be sure that we’re offering girls quality and consistency while giving them choice – Jennifer Sibley, Leader, 4th Bookham Guides 

3. Open your arms to everyone

An effective leader brings people together, regardless of their background – so we need to provide young members and fellow volunteers with plenty of opportunities to learn about different cultures and beliefs. In meetings with other Leaders, for example, we can use inclusive language and adapt activities for those with extra needs.

Those wanting to grow their team might like to put these values at the heart of the recruitment drive. Visit growing our membership for ideas on appealing to those who wouldn’t normally consider guiding.

I wanted to be part of a hospital unit, as I feel all children should get to enjoy the guiding experience. Ours is open to kids aged five to 14, and siblings and parents. We make the programme work for everyone’s needs, and adapt it as we go – Laura Stubbs, Leader, 1st Leeds Hospital Guides and Scouts

4. Work together

Being a great leader isn’t about taking on everything yourself – which is a relief! Knowing when to delegate a job to is a valuable skill. For example, you could ask your team to help you identify others’ strengths, and decide who is best suited to a task. By tackling things together, our lives can feel easier and more fulfilled.

Division socials allow us to get to know the wider team, and our Leadership Team also has a Facebook group where we share what’s happening in our own lives. It helps us see when we can help take on some of their load – Kirsty Carpenter, Leader, 17th Holborn (Great Ormond Street Hospital) Scouts and Guides

5. Aim for the sky

Young or old, there really is no age limit on learning – and we offer plenty of opportunities to help expand personal horizons. Want to improve on safeguarding or first aid? You could try one of our e–learning modules or find out about courses run locally. Maybe you’re interested in moving on to your next role as a volunteer? Find out about the huge variety of roles available and what’s involved.

Keep your girls and fellow volunteers updated on your progress – it will show them that learning can be a lifelong pleasure, not a chore!

I wasn’t initially keen to attend an international selection day, but my Commissioner encouraged me to go, so I gave it a shot. Then I got a call saying I’d been chosen to go to Iceland – and, wow, my eyes were opened there! I’ve since taken on other opportunities I never thought I would – Sarah Greatorex, Leader, 1st Djursholm Brownies, Stockholm

6. Support each other

Sometimes, guiding means leading from behind the scenes, providing support and reassurance.

On those occasions, try to listen carefully and respectfully, give constructive feedback, facilitate rather than direct, and provide pep talks when needed. Enabling others – both fellow volunteers and young group members – to take on responsibility is an important part of being a great leader. You could consider becoming a Mentor or Trainer, while older girls could take a look at our Peer Education scheme.

At 25, I became our District’s Young Leader Adviser. Thanks to my age, I could relate to the girls – I’d encourage them to take part in unit activities and training, even when they were busy. I loved meeting future Leaders and helping them achieve their qualification – Rebecca Atherton, District Young Leader Adviser, 4th Wigan St Mary’s and St John’s Brownies

7. Be inspired... and inspiring

What makes you ‘you’? Consider your talents, the struggles you’ve overcome and the dreams you aim to achieve. These make you unique – and a great leader. In guiding, we promise to ‘be true to myself’, which means taking steps to be happy in your own skin. Self–reflection isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding – and being ourselves can inspire others.

I was born very premature and have had learning difficulties, so wanted to work with people with additional needs. I’m a qualified special needs assistant, and also a full–time carer to Frankie, who has Rett Syndrome. She gets so much from Brownies, and the girls love having her there. They’re learning Makaton sign language and are working towards their Disability Awareness Badge – Alysia Martindale, Leader, 1st Bovingdon Brownies

8. Keep up to date

Having the latest information is key to leading well, and keeping your email address up to date on Go! will ensure you receive all Girlguiding communications. These, along with our website, will give you the need–to–know on everything from insurance to events. Plus, our Girls’ Attitudes Survey provides insight into the issues girls face and the things they’re passionate about, as do many of our blogs.

As members of an international organisation like WAGGGS, I think it’s important for us to be aware of global news and issues affecting girls and young women. I’m now at uni, so I use the internet to stay updated with current affairs and Girlguiding news. I also read newspapers – who says print is dead?! – Ashvini Rae, Girlguiding supporter and former Advocate

9. Jump right in

If there’s one thing our volunteers tend to have in common, it’s a can–do attitude – a quality that strong leaders have in spades. When someone is excited to try new things, meet new people and visit new places, others will want to come along for the ride.

To keep young members on their toes, try to give them at least one brand new experience to enjoy each term. It can be as small or as big as you like – whether it’s a fun sports event, a food–tasting session or an international trip – all activities are enriching in their own way.

I’m always up for a new challenge – Tough Mudder, skydives, bungee jumps – but I always said I’d never run a marathon. Now, I’m preparing for number three, and I’m aiming for a Guinness World Record by running in a Brownie uniform! – Karen Illsley, Leader, 9th Edinburgh Brownies

10. Take some me-time

When you’re leading a group, it can be all too easy to burn out – so it’s important to take care of yourself. Practise saying no, and being polite but firm. Your well–being is just as important as whatever needs doing, and chances are someone else could do it instead (see ‘Work together’, tip number 4). It’s also key to find something that makes you happy, and take the time to enjoy this – you deserve it! Young members can benefit from this advice too.

I try to keep what I do with work and regular guiding to weekdays, and as many weekends as I can for me. One day at least is left free to do what I choose, whether I see family, have a day out with friends, cook, or just sit in my pyjamas watching Netflix! – Bethan Beauchamp, Leader, 1st Sherington Brownies

11. Find the fun

When it’s chucking it down and you’ve got blisters from your walking boots, it can sometimes be easy to feel a bit fed up. The solution? Have a cup of tea and a good laugh.

In tough times, a sense of humour gets us through, and it’s extremely useful for teaching those you lead new skills and tackling challenging issues. For units, use our Activity Finder for inspiration and to provide young members with as much variety as you can. And don’t forget local, regional and national Girlguiding events – nothing is more fun than making new friends.

We had a circus skills workshop and all of our Leadership Team took part. I kept dropping the plate I was trying to spin but it got a laugh from the girls, which made me laugh too. They are a lot of fun to be around. If you’ve had a bad day, the girls are great at helping you forget all that – Sharon Hattersley, Leader, 1st Burley–in–Wharfedale Brownies

12. See the bigger picture

Our volunteers are part of a network of dedicated, strong women united by common goals: to empower girls to find their voices, and to discover the best in themselves. You’re also part of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) – the world’s largest voluntary movement for young women. So, when you need inspiration, think of fellow members out there. We’re all different, but through challenge, friendship, fun and adventure, we can achieve great things.

I work with our Trustees, Regional and National Chief Commissioners, and the CEO and Deputy CEO, to provide clear leadership and strategic direction. If we’re all committed to the same outcomes we can work as a team – which gives me confidence that Girlguiding will continue to grow – Valerie Le Vaillant, Chief Guide