Diversifying Leadership alumnus: ‘I realised I’m a strong asset’

Lawrence Lartey, student employability and progression practitioner at University of the Arts London, took part in Diversifying Leadership in 2016. Diversifying Leadership is the Leadership Foundation’s programme for BME early career academic and professional services staff. Two years after finishing the programme, Lawrence reflects on his experience.

What made you apply to be a participant on the Diversifying Leadership programme?
Initially I applied because I felt I was stagnant at my place of work, and I could not see ways that I could further my career. I applied as I knew I would be around other academics in similar situations. I wanted to pause, learn and explore ways to help myself develop as a person, and also look at strategies to develop my career.

What were your key leadership takeaways?
There were so many takeaways. One that was key for me was learning that the way I lead is authentic and credible in an academic setting. I embody everything I do naturally and channel it through my work. I completed the course feeling empowered and more confident than when I started.

One of the unique elements of the programme is that participants work with a sponsor. How did this relationship help you increase your influence in your institution?
My sponsor was incredible, he really invested in me. He took a real interest in my progression and coached me into demonstrating my value to my employers. What I mean by this is that I was doing such important and innovative work, he helped me see how the work had tangible research potential and how I could publicise the project in order to make the right people aware.

Many participants speak about a “lightbulb moment” on the programme when they have a real sense of clarity about their strategy for progression. What was yours?
There were two really. The first was when I decided a PhD was not my priority, even though 70% of the participants on the course with me had or were studying for one. Deciding against a PhD really freed-up my thinking. My second lightbulb moment was realising that I’m a qualified academic, engaged in the creative industries with a thesis of mine having been turned into a BBC documentary. I realised I’m a strong asset, the right people at the institution need to know this.  

How would you respond to those who criticise programmes like Diversifying Leadership because they are based on a deficit model?
How you measure the impact of any programme is dependent on one’s definition of success. How do you quantify success? There is a real issue around representation and leadership in higher education. As a result of the programme I’m now in a contracted position in my establishment. There has been significant distance travelled, and I’ve been leading high profile projects. My response to those who criticise the programme is that, there are representation issues in higher education (gender race etc) and Diversifying Leadership is making attempts to address the issues, and sometimes focussing on the issue and unpicking it provides a resolution.

Tell us about your current role
My role at University of the Arts London as a student employability and progression practitioner really allows me to use my industry contacts to ensure our students are equipped to progress into the creative sector. I also explore ways to open up exchange opportunities for students to study in other countries via projects such as the NYLON exchange project (in partnership with entrepreneur and music producer Jay Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation).

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working with Jay Z and his Shawn Carter Foundation on another international exchange taking place in summer 2018. The project is going from strength to strength with some of his scholars spending part of their semester at University of Arts London colleges. I’m also working on a great initiative with global creative agency Exposure, looking at how we prepare the next generation of creative leaders. For the last year and a half, I’ve also been developing a cultural leadership programme with the Obama Foundation, we’re looking to enrol the first cohort of students in 2018, on a bespoke creative sector leadership programme. The programme will take place in Boston and London.


Diversifying Leadership

The Diversifying Leadership programme is designed to support early career academics and professional services staff  from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who are about to take their first steps into a leadership role.

Limited spaces remain on Diversifying Leadership 7 which runs from April-June 2018. Find out more.

Equality and Diversity

Diversifying Leadership is part of our Equality and Diversity programme. Join us at our BME Summit on May 16find out more hereLearn more about our other diversity programmes by following this link. 

The Longitudinal Study 

The Diversifying Leadership programme is the subject of a longitudinal study, “Cracking the ‘concrete ceiling'”, which is due for publication later this year. Find out more. 

 

Olympic medalist Cath Bishop: Support networks are vital

Cath Bishop will join us in July 2018 as a guest speaker at the Aurora Adaptive Leadership Skills day in London. Ahead of her talk in London, we asked Cath some questions about her career and progression into leadership.

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself
I am curious and a keen continual student, which is probably why I’ve had some different and interesting career experiences, from Olympic rower, to diplomat, to motherhood, to speaker and leadership consultant, with a few more ambitions still in the wings!

What does good leadership mean to you?
Bringing people with you, inspiring others to do things they didn’t realise they were capable of, reaching others to make a positive difference in whatever world they are engaged.  And I believe in ‘sweating the small stuff’ – small things matter in my opinion, being kind to others, speaking to the waiter as you do to your most valuable client, valuing others’ opinions and taking time to help when you can.

What would be some of the milestones that you think “that’s a point where my leadership changed”?
The moments of biggest failure and biggest success – when I got things badly wrong, I usually learnt a huge amount in the process and grew personally and professionally through the experience, as well as realising that the world didn’t come to an end.  And when things went well, I realised I was capable of so much more than I realised.

What would you say if someone were to ask you, what makes you most resilient
My ability to look failure in the face and find a way to keep going and keep learning.  I think I am also really self-reflective and probably too self-critical, but the upside of that is that I am always willing and proactive in finding ways to improve and develop myself.

How important do you think mentors, role models and networks are in supporting women’s leadership?
Support networks are vital.  And it’s best for those networks to be as diverse as possible, with people who know you well and are on side, to those who have something to offer that’s new and different, across personal and professional worlds.  I didn’t have one specific mentor or role model, I took lots of things from lots of different people, some I met up close and knew well, some I observed and learnt from, others I read about in books and adapted what I read to work for me.

How can initiatives like Aurora help women and their organisation achieve their potential?
Initiatives like Aurora are so valuable for providing additional networks with all sorts of people with hidden powers you might never have come across. Offering new ways of learning from each other and learning together, different perspectives of looking at the world, and more people who are ‘on your side’ beyond your immediate circle.

Thinking about your career and experiences, what advice would you give your younger self?
To stop worrying about failing – I have always faced failure with courage and found ways to pick myself up and move on, but I wish I had wasted less time beating myself up within that process, and just held my head up high and moved on more quickly.  I would also advise myself to be bolder, to aim even higher and believe in myself, rather than waiting for there to be lots of evidence and lots of people believing I could do it – I needn’t have waited for that.

Finally, do you have an inspiring woman leader, and if so, who?
I had the privilege of rowing and training and developing a lifelong friendship with Dame Katherine Grainger who is one of the best sporting role models I have ever come across, who showed grace, positivity and perseverance in unbelievable amounts time and time again.


Cath Bishop is a former Olympic Rower and diplomat. While working at the Foreign Office she lived and worked in Bosnia and Iraq. After 10 years as a rower and 11 years at the Foreign Office, Cath set up her own leadership and team performance consulting business.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2018-19 will be available soon. 

Know thyself!

After three years and six iterations of the Leadership Foundation’s innovative blended learning programme, Transition to Leadership (TTL), programme director Stuart Hunt reflects on what he has learned and why he believes the programme is so well received by participants.

When we were working on the design of the TTL programme, we were very keen to make sure that it included two elements that are not often seen in open, introductory level programmes of this kind. We have three days face-to-face and about the same amount of time for online and on-the-job learning activities, and we wanted to make the most of this time. We did not want to lecture too much (and we don’t!), nor did we want the programme to involve a lot of reading (there’s plenty, but only limited to Must Read material), but we did want some clear structure with a real chance of participants holding onto some key ideas and actually putting these into practice.  The two elements described below are what emerged from our extended development phase to help achieve these ambitions.

Co-creation
The first approach was that we wanted the process to be one of co-creation. Sure, we provide theoretical grounding and effective models for participants to review and build on, but we also take advantage of the blended and extended nature of the programme to task participants with co-designing and co-presenting their own understandings and applications of leadership based around their own experiences.

This concept of the ‘flipped’ classroom, with participants leading presentations and fielding questions from colleagues lends itself well to the culture of learning in higher education, with typically independent-minded colleagues having the opportunity to explore, challenge, and occasionally provoke, as well as to provide mutual support and personal reflection. It also provides ample opportunity for colleagues to explore the second key theme, that is self-knowledge and with it the great boon of flexibility.

Self-knowledge
Throughout the programme, we ask participants to reflect on their own styles, their own preferences, what they admire in others, what they bring to leadership that is helpful and where they may need the support of colleagues. We do not encourage participants to aim to become that which they are not. We want them to know what they are really good at and what motivates them, and to consciously seek to demonstrate these attributes to colleagues with whom they work. It is only when we know ourselves that we are in any position to deliberately choose to modify our behaviour and to become really skilful leaders. And thus the programme is filled with diagnostics, self-assessments and structured self-reflection activities, plus face-to-face and online discussions to help people understand that others may have very different perspectives.

Enhanced understanding of self
So, the content of TTL is great and I think well balanced, and this is supported by good design, but the real benefit of our programme for participants is the co-creation of understanding based on the perspective of our lived realities, together with a genuinely enhanced understanding of ourselves. Together these approaches combine to enable participants to make choices, so that they can sometimes ‘flex’ from their places of strength in order to be better able to support the needs of others with whom they work.

The programme continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of higher education leaders, however the core of the programme remains tried and tested as a foundation for new leaders. I am genuinely proud of this programme.

The next run of Transition to Leadership will being on Monday 19 March 2018 and run through until Tuesday 26 June 2018. Click here to find out more about what the programme has to offer. 

Stuart Hunt is an independent consultant and has been a key associate of the Leadership Foundation since its inception. He is currently co-director for the Transition to Leadership programme. Stuart is also currently supporting a major cultural change initiative across Ukrainian Higher Education.

The art of being strategic

Doug Parkin, programme director, reflects on the Strategic Dialogue learning activity in module three of the Future Professional Directors Programme. This year the participants were joined by Professor Nick Petford, vice-chancellor of the University of Northampton; David Relph, director at Bristol Health Partners; Justine Andrew, director, public sector at KPMG; and Helen Lloyd Wildman, chief operating officer NMITE (during FPD consultant at Royal Agricultural University) and formerly an army lieutenant colonel.

Our Future Professional Directors (FPD) programme, for aspiring leaders of professional services from all areas of an institution, is transformational by design. From the outset, we developed the programme to ensure learning would take place in a range of experiential activities and active inquiry processes.

A great example of this is the Strategic Dialogue, the centrepiece learning activity on the third and final module of the programme. This module is focused on strategy but, rather than take participants through the received wisdom on strategic planning, we focus instead on the art of ‘being strategic’.

Exploring strategic thinking

So, what does it mean to ‘be strategic’?

This question, at the heart of the Strategic Dialogue session, is explored through four different sector perspectives – higher education, health, commercial and the armed forces. The topic is brought to life by four excellent contributors, each a senior figure with strong experience in one of these worlds, who take ‘how to lead strategic engagement’ as the central theme of their presentations.

In the Future Professional Directors programme’s Strategic Dialogue, the contributors present their perspective and are then interviewed by the FPD small groups of participants. By the end of the session each participant group has created their own unique model for strategic engagement.

The bigger picture

For the participants, having the space and time to ‘lift their heads up’ from the day to day issues they face and take a broader look at how their role fits into the whole organisation – and their own responsibility for strategy development and engagement – is a crucially important part of the session says Justine Andrew.

One of the key learning goals is “getting folk to understand what strategic means and stressing that we shouldn’t be undertaking any tasks that do not contribute to the achievement of the corporate strategy,” remarks Helen Lloyd Wildman.

Nick Petford also emphasises the need in uncertain times to understand the importance of differentiating between long-term planning and strategy. Universities should develop a clear and concise single strategic document (in contrast to a myriad of sub strategies), supported by a business or operational plan designed for flexibility. The days when institutions could set a point on the horizon and expect to sail towards it without being quickly blown off course are gone for most of us.

He draws attention to the powerful link between institutional values and strategy: “there are different ways to think about strategy in a complex institution and institutional values are the fundamental building blocks of strategic thinking.”

The active nature of the session brings to life the dynamic nature of strategy and the fact that engaging people in strategic conversations is at least as important as strategy itself: this is indeed the art of ‘being strategic’ in an organisation.

Engaging professional service staff

These vital strategic conversations must be opened up early and widely. For Nick Petford, “professional service staff are key to the successful running of our universities and need to be engaged at all levels of the strategic planning process”.  Through early engagement, professional service leaders can build up a ‘coalition of the willing’ which pays dividends in the future.

Sharing knowledge

The essence of the Strategic Dialogue session is a powerful opportunity for participants to compare and contrast the challenge of strategic engagement by using the stimulus of four very different perspectives and the opportunity to probe the strategic mind-sets of successful senior leaders.

The spirit of learning around the session is energising, profound and mutually shared, which also offers deep learning opportunities for the presenters as well as the participants.

For the sector more broadly, the programme develops professional service leaders who are confident with strategic engagement and their own authentic mode of ‘being strategic’.


Future Professional Directors takes place over nine months and includes three residential modules, two action learning sets, an online environment to support continuous learning, and a 360-degree diagnostic.

Future Professional Directors is for professional service leaders from all areas of the University who have demonstrated strong leadership potential

Applications for Future Professional Directors are now open. The application deadline is Friday 23 February 2018.

Our mentorship journey Siobhan Atherley and Kerry Jordan-Daus

Siobhan Atherley is a senior lecturer at Canterbury Christ University who took part in Aurora London in 2017. Her mentor, Kerry Jordan-Daus is head of UK and International Partnerships and is on the Canterbury Christ Church Athena Swan Senior Implementation Team and the Faculty of Education Athena Swan champion. Here they take the time to reflect on their experiences and learnings as a mentor and mentee. Their relationship demonstrates conversations can provide clarity and motivation in facilitating learning and development.

Siobhan: Black

Kerry: Purple

Siobhan: I am a senior lecturer with many years experience working in higher education institutions with a range of multi professional health and social care undergraduate and post graduate students and learners. This also included working as a tutor in the Open University and as a non-medical general practice programme director in a Deanery.

I applied for Aurora as I thought it would be an opportunity to help me navigate my way in my professional career and become energised as I was feeling ‘stuck’ in my career. I felt a lack of momentum which I recognised as a hindrance in my motivation to move forward into leadership positions. For me leadership isn’t about being in charge but about being a visionary and enabling different perspectives to be shared, in bringing together talents and ideas from others. In order to shape ideas and influence change I felt that I needed to gain a leadership role but I felt stuck, and hoped that Aurora would help facilitate the personal development I needed. My successful application to Aurora gave me the learning space to reflect and challenge and start to examine how I would integrate my prior knowledge, new knowledge and future knowledge into my work as an academic.

Kerry: I am an experienced senior leader in the university’s Faculty of Education and a member of the university’s Senior Leadership Group. I am new to mentoring Aurorans but I do have significant experience of mentoring as part of my professional role as a teacher educator.

I have undertaken a number of professional development courses to support my own learning as a mentor and coach. Most recently I completed a Manager as Coach Staff Development programme through our university. I am a Department for Education designated coach and currently coach two school leaders. I find coaching to be professionally enriching. I am in a place in my own professional life where I feel I can share my own leadership journey, but I am also in a place where I want to continue to learn and grow as a leader so being a mentor and coach is also about my own learning.

I am a member of the university Athena Swan Senior Implementation Team and the Faculty of Education Athena Swan champion. I am currently completing a Doctorate in Education Leadership with a focus on gender and authentic leadership so mentoring Siobhan seemed like the right fit.

Siobhan: Due to ill-health my first mentor was unable to continue in the role. This was a great loss to me as I find her vision and articulation of the position of women in society including the workplace energising. I was grateful to her visual image and description of ‘sweeping rubbish away’ when I discussed how stuck I was feeling. It gave me permission to do just that and how important it is to move forward in a positive way. The absence of a mentor for a significant part of Aurora contributed to some of my frustrations but I was determined to get beyond this.

I realised how important the mentor was in the Aurora learning and professional development process and I chased for a replacement. Kerry was my second mentor and we met when the programme ended. The meetings took the shape of constructive coaching conversations facilitated by Kerry. With these coaching sessions, my ideas took shape, my energy increased, and I determined to change my views. I got out my broom!

At our first meeting, I admitted to Kerry that I was tired of feeling professionally stuck. For me this was a brave admission as being open might not be seen as a positive strength. I think self-awareness is important and I know many of us are wary of being honest.

Aurora set out an excellent session on a holistic presentation of ourselves. A common theme was that women are not forth coming in expressing their views in meetings for example and that confidence and assertiveness is an issue. Kerry my mentor was not judgemental and provides a space for honest reflection on thoughts and feelings and a solution focused approach to developing skills in for example assertiveness and confidence.

As busy academics, protected time for reflection is vital in maintaining flexibility and Aurora provided this space. Now, mentorship provides a support system and a vehicle for me to critically reflect on my scope of work both as an individual and as a team member. The first meeting was crucial in setting the scope and objectives for enabling me to help myself, feel more in control of where I would like to go, and how I would do this.

I believe passionately in the impact Action Learning Sets can have and although ours was less effective (we only met once perhaps owing to our geographical spread), I have continued to meet with one of the members of the group. I see this informal networking as a real benefit of Aurora.

Kerry: I met Siobhan at the end of her formal Aurora Programme. It was evident to me that she had really engaged with the messages and was determined not to ‘sit’ and wait but to put herself out there. But at that first meeting I heard her frustrations but I also heard her determination. Using the GROW Coaching Model enabled me to support Siobhan to see that there were options and that it was in her grasp to do something to secure the leadership role that she really aspired to. 

I really enjoyed the opportunity to put into practice some of the new techniques that I had been introduced to as part of my own coaching programme and I encouraged Siobhan to evaluate my mentoring/coaching approach.

Research into women in leadership (Blackmore and Sachs, 2007, Coleman 2011, Fitzgerald 2014,) highlight the diversity of women’s leadership life trajectory. Both Siobhan and I spent our first meeting talking about our lives. Work is important to both of us. It gives us a sense of identity. But our stories do not follow a neat pattern. Families, children, health all impact on our journeys. We talked about these experiences as empowering and not limiting. We found ourselves going back to history and reflected on those women who are ‘hidden from history’ (Rowbotham 1973) as our heroines.

Siobhan: It was energising discussing with Kerry the influential work undertaken by women writers and researchers in the past that we both had read, and how their reflections continue to be relevant today. For example we talked about Ann Oakley who explored women’s work both paid (the public sphere) and unpaid (in the home). I felt a sense of connection with my mentor discussing women’s literature as this aspect of women’s history in literature can be neglected and unknown. Certainly there is debate around the word ‘feminism’ and its current relevance. It would be useful to explore the juxtaposition between academic, current social and historical definitions of the private and public sphere of women and work in society, and apply to leadership in general.

Since I completed Aurora I have been appointed as cohort coordinator for the medically themed MSc pathway for clinical fellows in the Institute of Medical Science. I have also led a project to include a range of health and social care professionals in practice education and I am now part of a project exploring the facilitation of learning in the workplace for all learners across all levels and programmes. Finally, I have been invited to contribute to a proposed book exploring practice learning and I am planning to apply for Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. Within less than a year I have achieved some of the leadership space that I aspired to at the beginning of the process.

Kerry: Our mentor/mentee relationship is built upon honesty and trust. This continues to grow which is a natural part of the process of development. We have continued to meet, and the mentoring continues in an informal way. Perhaps it’s not mentoring anymore but I like to think I am providing ongoing professional support and a bit of space, which we all need and pretending otherwise feels dishonest. Both Siobhan and I are committed to our own learning and the relationship has enabled us to both continue to learn and grow as leaders. For me, it has also been about my learning as a coach and a mentor.

Siobhan: Putting together this blog has been another significant part of our developing mentee/mentor relationship – providing scaffolding to support reflection and reflexity.  Kerry and I continue to meet – I think this could continue for sometime!

Siobhan and Kerry’s blog post forms part of our mentor and mentee blogs. There are two more currently online: 


Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates and locations for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

This year we are encouraging Aurora mentees and their mentors to attend the Aurora Conference 2018 on Thursday 7 June. Book now. 

Why Leadership Matters

Christine Abbott is a facilitator of Leadership Matters, the Leadership Foundation’s programme for senior women in higher education. Christine has has spent almost all her career in higher education, most recently as university secretary & director of Operations at Birmingham City University. Here she considers how women can achieve senior roles in the sector and how Leadership Matters can support this.  

It is often said that success, in any walk of life, is less about what you know, than who you know. In our now extensively connected world this is increasingly true. Nevertheless good networks alone are rarely enough. Certainly successful leadership requires the ability to engage with people, to understand their motivations, and to recognise and develop their talents. But in addition, a sound bedrock of knowledge and experience are also needed. However the work environment is now so complex, and in such a state of continuing flux, that claiming to know enough to fully understand one’s organisation can seem a fanciful statement.

The tube map of universities

Navigating the current higher education sector, or even one’s own University, can sometimes feel more like travelling in the London underground than following the A to Z. A tourist in London might go down into the tube at Marble Arch, and pop back up at Westminster, and recognise the landmarks in both locations; but they may have little idea of the route between the two places, or what sits above ground as they travel through the tunnels. In our Universities this feeling of limited understanding can become a particular concern when colleagues move from one role to another, or from one department, faculty or service area to another. Moving between institutions or gaining promotion can exacerbate that consciousness of the blocks or blind spots in our understanding.

Why Leadership Matters

The aim of the Leadership Matters course is to fill in some of those gaps in understanding and knowledge, by looking at the frameworks – the strategic, financial, and governance frameworks – within which our institutions operate. Participants on previous cohorts have often been those who have gained promotion to middle or senior management positions, which bring them, perhaps for the first time, into a broader University arena, and feel there are gaps in their understanding of how the whole University entity fits together and functions.

The programme aims to help participants to get to grips with how their University operates, how it takes critical decisions, and the financial, legal, and reputational considerations that impact upon its decisions.

Module one, which is led by Gill Ball and myself, aims to ‘humanise’ some potentially dry topics, such as funding and finance, governance and decision making. Through practical small group work there will be plenty of opportunity for hands-on learning. Module one also includes a session led by a senior woman leader from the sector, on ‘navigating the organisation’. This session links the organisational perspective with the individual and personal, and provides the bridge into the Action Learning Sets and module two.

The second module, which is led by Rachael Ross and Sally Cray, focuses more closely on how to develop the personal impact necessary to be successful as a senior woman leader.

Impact of the programme

Leadership Matters is now being run for the eighth time, and from the outset the Leadership Foundation was keen for the programme to be women-only. The programme director, Rachael Ross, and the programme leaders have discussed a number of times the rationale for this, since as concerns module one, the topics discussed, and the approaches used, are gender neutral. Our conclusion, which has been reaffirmed after each of the cohorts that we have led to date, is that the women-only aspect of the programme enables a particularly rich and reflective quality to the discussions. This is most notably the case in the Action Learning Sets, and in module two of the programme, as colleagues draw upon their personal experiences of leadership and their leadership journey. As programme director Rachael Ross says: “We find that our senior delegates value a women-only programme. They are able to deepen their understanding of these key topics in an open, reflective way, challenge themselves to “claim” their unique leadership approach, and build a supportive network of women leaders right across higher education.”

It is the blend of the broad organisational perspective with the personal that makes this programme special.

At more junior levels in one’s career, the concern is primarily to be able to provide the answers to the questions you are asked. The more senior your role, the more important it becomes to know the questions to ask, how to ask them, and to whom those questions can and should be addressed. The Leadership Matters programme is designed to help female colleagues to identify both the questions, and the audience for those questions, and so to develop their confidence and effectiveness in their leadership roles.


Leadership Matters will be taking place in  Manchester and Bristol in Winter, and Spring respectively in the next academic year. For more information and to book a place please click here.

Core stability – the journey towards work/life balance

Professor Shân Wareing is pro vice-chancellor for Education and Student Experience at London South Bank University (LSBU) and a professor of Teaching in Higher Education. She recently spoke at Aurora in London and Edinburgh about her personal experience as a senior female leader during Power and Politics. Shân has also recently spoken at Leadership Matters and Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership. Here, she reflects on her work life balance which formed part of her talk at Aurora this year.

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives”
(Anne Dillard, quoted in Scott 2003, p80)

Like most people, there are plenty of times I don’t feel I’ve got my work/life balance right, but perhaps strangely, it was worse when I was a lecturer completing my PhD than now when I have three children and more senior job. Along the way, these are some of the ideas and habits that have helped me.

Know your purpose
To work out what balance is right for you, and how to achieve it, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve in life, what your purpose is. In one of my first jobs, a senior colleague had a poster on his wall that said “No one on their death bed wishes they’d spent more time in the office!” and I thought “Hmm, but perhaps I’ll wish I’d achieved more!”  Imagining myself in old age, reflecting on what might cause me to feel pride or regret helped me identify what mattered to me. Being very clear about what is important to you helps you allocate your time and keep things in proportion. That sense of proportion is vital to regulate our emotional response to events at work, which in my experience exact a heavy toll on me if I feel I am living out of alignment with my sense of purpose.

Planning is key
If you know where you’re heading, you can make a plan. And a plan allows you to identify the best opportunities for you, to estimate if you can take on new work without having a melt down, and to prioritise and selectively ignore things.  This is important to protect you from being buffeted by every policy whim, incident, metric, new piece of research, sector panic, and so on. Having a plan helps you spot if you are drawn off your plan too much by fire fighting. I always assume that up to 10% of each day or week will be spent in emergency unplanned reactive activity, but if it starts to increase regularly beyond 10% I need to change my plans to focus more on eliminating the causes of the fire fighting.

The 80:20 Principle
I’ll always have too much work, and probably so will you! In the endless tail of work that is never totally cleared, I have an arbitrary self-imposed cut off point. To minimise the distress of never ticking off everything on my To Do list, the 80:20 principle helps.  If 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of my work and I am fairly sure I’ve done the important 20%, I can go home a bit earlier. Looking at my To Do list regularly from an 80:20 perspective is also important to avoid the feeling that I need to be busy to feel productive. Needing to be busy is the enemy of work/life balance!

Work with and for your team
When the work suddenly piles on, it is easy to feel too busy to talk to people, and I have to fight this instinct! In a management role, and many other roles, people are the job, not an inconvenient extra. The better my team relationships, the more adept my teams are at handling their everyday work and sorting out anything unexpected, which means fewer unpleasant surprises for me. I have found I have a better work/life balance as a manager by talking and listening to my teams. Also working though others is a chance to increase their capability so a win-win for everyone. I could work five hours extra every week but it’s worth a lot less to the university than if I can enable a team of staff to be 10% more productive. To be effective, delegation needs to be in the context of purpose and planning, not random or opportunistic. The better I plan and the higher functioning my teams, the less random rubbish happens, and the earlier we all go home.

Avoid emotional leakage
A lot of stress and unnecessary work comes from emotional leakage – anxiety, fear, hostility, resentment  triggered by projects and people. Work/life balance is not just about what you choose to spend time on, it’s also about how you feel about things. As far as humanly possible it helps not to sink emotion into stuff where it can’t have any positive effect.

Be in the habit of taking care of yourself.
I noticed in pregnancy that what I ate one day had an effect on my mood the next day (protein and vegetables, good; only chocolate all day, bad), and I decided this was probably an exaggerated version of what happens anyway, so I tidied up my eating habits a bit (aiming to avoid chocolate-only days). And I also notice exercise helps my will power.  When I exercise, I’m better able to make myself do stuff I don’t want to do.

Invest in your own growth
Seek out development opportunities that take you in the direction you’re heading.  However experienced and senior you become, you never stop needing to learn. ‘Sharpen the axe’, Stephen Covey calls it.  And to lighten cognitive load (ie fewer things to think about or make decisions about), it really helps to have habits and routines. Barak Obama is reported to have said “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Look for happiness
Another tip from maternity leave and days where it seemed like nothing got done is to remember to pat myself on the back for what I have achieved, not beat myself up for what I haven’t.  Dwelling on what is good about my professional and personal life isn’t about being smug or complacent – it is a necessary exercise in order to sustain optimism for vision and planning.

I still get bad days when it all gets too much, but not so much, and falling back on these principles helps. And for the very impatient readers out there who skimmed to the end, the super-efficient version is: (1) work out what matters to you and do that; and (2) count your blessings.


Further reading
Scott, Susan (2003) Fierce Conversations. London: Piatkus
Covey, Stephen (2004) The 7 habits of highly effective people. London: Simon and Schuster

About Aurora
Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research that shows that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to change this. Since Aurora began in 2013 we have welcomed 3,477 women from 139 universities and sector bodies, with 1029 women attending in 2016-17 alone.

The Aurora Conference- Thursday 7 June 2018
We are delighted to be launching our fourth Aurora conference.

Participants include, but are not limited to:

    • Aurora participants (current and alumnae)
    • Aurora champions
    • Aurora role models
    • Aurora mentors
    • People working in/leading equality and diversity

Find out more and book

Demystifying Finance – Wednesday 18 April 2018
For women in higher education who want to improve their understanding of finance in higher education and develop financial management skills.

Find out more and book

Leadership Matters
Leadership Matters is our programme for senior women leaders in higher education and will be taking place in Manchester and Bristol in Winter and Spring respectively in 2018. For more information and to book a place please click here.

Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership
Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership is one of our most highly regarded programmes. It will take place once more this academic year:

PSSL Summer
Application Deadline: 8 June 2018
Programme Dates: Tuesday 19 – Friday 22 June
Location: Manchester