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Local Authority Internal Audit Virtual Forum

23 June 2021  

Please note:

  • All Institute responses are boxed and highlighted blue
  • Where the Chair comments in that capacity, the box is highlighted in yellow
  • For confidentiality, the identities of all delegates/attendees are anonymised 

Institute's welcome

Thank you for joining us for our session today on inspirational leadership. It is fair to say that we have all tested our leadership skills to some considerable degree over the last year and that many of us will have learnt much about ourselves, our teams and those we work with. In addition to our guest speaker, we are also joined by Liz Sandwith, the Institute’s Chief Professional Practices Advisor and Derek Jamieson, Regional Director. The Institute's CEO and our normal chair could not be with us today.

The role of internal audit has changed over the years, we have had to adjust our focus and enhance our skill sets. We now find ourselves changing how we manage our on-line teams and provide new levels of leadership to our organisations. As we move forward into the second half of the year, take a moment to reflect on your role as leader – hopefully, an inspirational leader to those around you.  

  • Reflect on the leadership lessons you have learnt over the last year or so as the impact of the pandemic affected you, your team and the organisation you work for.
  • Consider the extent to which you wish to make any adjustments to your leadership style and approach going forward to be more effective leaders of your teams and, equally importantly, across our organisations.

Key takeaways

  • There are many expectational shifts around us, including the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Black Lives Matter.
  • You can be a leader from anywhere in the room – the captain is not always the most influential leader on the football pitch.
  • Inspirational leaders go beyond the basics in the hierarchy of need – fulfilling expectations at the upper levels of need drives engagement and is fulfilling for all parties.
  • Organisations tend to reward a fixed mindset.
  • Typically, transactional performance measures deliverables and avoiding failures, often likened to command and control.
  • Adopting more of a growth mindset enables innovation, reduces the risk of group think and recognises fewer tangible aspects of success.
  • The slides include ten traits associated with each mindset as a reminder.
  • Two broad leadership styles - transactional vs transformational.
  • Transactional works well in a scenario where there is little change and rules are clear.
  • Few organisations have been stable in the last 15 months – requiring transformational leadership.
  • Greater focus on innovation, creating a vision that people want to follow to develop leaders within the team.
  • Transformational styles enable positive risk cultures, effective decision making and inclusion.
  • The slides include traits associated with each style as a reminder.
  • Situational leadership is about adapting your style depending on the needs of the team/individual.
  • Shifting from directive to coaching, on to supporting and finally delegating as skills develop.
  • There are nine important 21st century leadership traits:
  1. Adaptability |working in different ways including the complexity of professional scepticism for remote assurance.
  2. Self-awareness |conscious of own biases, strengths and weaknesses to build a team that complements it.
  3. People skills |ability to interact at a variety of levels and remembering that team members may think differently to us and respond to different reward mechanisms.
  4. Purposefulness |thinking about our role as internal auditors, we need to be clear about our strategy, mission, vision and gain buy-in from others.
  5. Decisiveness |making timely decisions – we’ve all experienced issues with indecisive people!
  6. Collaboration |valuing the views of others and taking them into account, not being autocratic.
  7. Walk the walk |demonstrable values and leadership – graduates today are increasingly influenced in their choices by the values of an organisation and the person they will be working for and learning from.
  8. Innovate |the tools are there for internal audit, we need to make the time to learn, develop and make room for them.
  9. Execute |having follow through – ‘talk is cheap!’

Speaker slides are available here.

Institute's closing comments

Check out Liz’s YouTube channel, particularly the eight-minute Bad Bosses video!

Click here to join us on 25 June for our free virtual Audit & Risk Awards ceremony.

Our next LA Forum meeting, 21 July 2021, will be on financial stability and cost constraints when we will share the findings of the Institute’s latest research report with speakers from internal audit and external audit.

As always, if you have any ideas or suggestions for what we might include in future agendas, please contact Liz Sandwith on email at:

Speaker Q&A  

Q I have found it difficult to get my staff really engaged, for example in team meetings, they want me to lecture them rather than participate in the meeting. I find it really hard to maintain positivity in these situations. It tends to make me have to be more directive in these situations, which isn't where I wasn't to be! I have introduced a feedback section to the meeting - but any other ideas would be welcome.
Q I have the same challenge too! I have tried 5 minute you tube videos on topics such as root cause analysis to generate some conversations which seems to have worked quite well.
A Ideas I have used include a fun ‘share’ at the beginning of the meeting, sets a conversational tone and everyone speaks. Research shows the more people speak the more likely they are to participate. Delegate areas of the discussion to team members (ahead of time so they can prepare). Take time to watch the screen, call on people to share their thoughts and experience if quiet. Make it clear that non-participation is not optional.

Q Can you outline the type of adjustments you may need to make to your leadership style on a long-term basis given that a hybrid working environment will be in play and that many of the team may be re-evaluating their career direction.
A Making sure you have regular 1:1 touchpoints and social virtual meetings. Experience suggests hybrid is challenging when some of the team are in and some are out, might need to have rules to have everyone ‘together’ at some point. Thinking about career re-evaluation, it’s always good to engage and understand what motivates individuals. Education is a good way to diversity interests, coaching qualifications etc – perhaps using the apprenticeship levy if it is not being utilised. Also secondments to gain different perspectives and skills.

Q How do leaders of remote teams identify burn-out?
A Indicators I look for are people ‘too present’, not using natural break cues so always on-line. Then using 1:1s and mental health awareness as part of the broader culture. Lots of people cancelled annual leave so it might be necessary to enforce that at times.

Q Could there be a conflict between a leadership you want to adopt and the tone from the top.
A Even the most transactional managers/leaders are recognising the need to be transformation. I like the quote “be so good they can’t ignore you” from Legally Blonde. If you believe it’s right don’t be afraid to be a lonely voice.

Q When staff are working remotely, how can you check on productivity without them feeling you're breathing down their necks?
A Use the situational model. Think about what style you need. Set clear deadlines, deliverables and use milestone check-ins.

Q You mention that your style is to focus on output and delivery rather than being concerned with when people are doing the task to maximise flexible working. Across all the organisations you work with, do you see instances when that’s not possible?
A It depends how contactable staff need to be, for instance I set communication boundaries, particularly important in our digital age, using diaries effectively to block time out, for instance at lunchtime my team know that I’m often at the gym so not contactable.

Q Change can be scary, if someone is trying to find the courage to change their leadership style - what would you suggest as a first step to help them on their journey?
A Find a mentor, someone who demonstrates the behaviours you want to emulate, either internally or among your peer group. Have a conversation and break down the tasks to manageable change. None of us can change overnight.