Our mentorship journey: Karen Twomey and Val Cummins

Karen Twomey is a Researcher at Tyndall National Institute, Cork who took part in Aurora in Dublin in 2014-15. Karen chose, Val Cummins, Senior Lecturer at University College Cork to be her mentor for the duration of the programme and the relationship continues to this day. We asked Karen and Val to reflect on their relationship as a mentee and mentor.

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself

Karen: My name is Karen Twomey, and I participated in the Aurora Course in 2014-2015. I’m a mother to one year old boy/girl twins and, I’m a researcher in autonomous chemical sensing systems at Tyndall National Institute, Cork, Ireland. My research activity encompasses sensors, mixed-signal instrumentation, and signal processing and data interpretation algorithms.

Val: My name is Val Cummins. I had the pleasure of being invited to work with Karen on her Aurora Programme. My background and track record is in leading research with impact, including fostering innovation for the sustainable development of the global ocean economy. The sea has been a focal point for most of my career; from the formative years as a zoologist working on the humble periwinkle, to managing a large research centre, directing a maritime and energy cluster, and most recently as an academic in UCC. My leadership in the Blue Economy was recognised by a number of awards, including an Eisenhower Fellowship in 2012. I am married to Ken and we have three, beautiful young daughters.

How did you approach the process of mentorship?

Karen: I went into the mentorship process not fully knowing what I wanted to get out of it. However, I did know that I wanted a mentor who was a great public speaker and who understood the R&D environment. Val was suggested to me as a suitable mentor by the UCC Aurora Champion. I contacted Val over email and after our initial meeting, we agreed to meet face-to-face once a month with contact in between over email or text message.

Val: When I was contacted directly by Karen, I was struck by her commitment to the Aurora programme, and it was a no-brainer for me to agree to a mentoring relationship. I was fascinated by her work and achievements to date. We arranged to meet regularly. Our initial meetings were well structured, with clear objectives and actions to pursue. At the same time, it was natural for us to be very informal, which helped us to get to know each other better.

What has been your biggest learning from the process?

Karen: I think the biggest learning for me has been the realisation of how powerful having an outside perspective can be. You can start to get tunnel vision, especially when working in the same workplace for 15 years.  Having the right mentor can show you your potential, can give you a push to try new things. For instance, with Val’s help and encouragement, I applied for a Science Foundation Ireland Industry fellowship, which allows an exchange between academia and industry. I’m now on a one year secondment from Tyndall and am working in a corporate R&D environment.

Val: My learning from the process is that you can never underestimate the importance of mutual support between women in the work place. It is not a linear process flowing from mentor to mentee. It works both ways. Karen’s focus and capability inspires me.

Val, what inspired you to become a mentor?

Val: I was inspired by Karen, in her approach to me, which encouraged me to believe that this would be a valuable process. I was also inspired by my experience with my own personal mentors, who have been generous to a fault with their time and advice which they have provided unconditionally.

I had my head in the sand for many years in relation to the need to advocate for equality in the workplace. Through personal experiences I have come to appreciate the importance of this issue. Mentorship provides an important mechanism for women to provide the support needed to encourage their counterparts to break through the many glass ceiling that prevail in working environments.

Karen, have you ever been a mentor yourself?

Karen: I haven’t previously been a mentor but I would like to pay it forward to other women pursuing a career in STEM by passing on what I have learnt from Val and from my own experiences as a research scientist.

Karen, what was the best piece of advice you received from Val?

Karen: The best piece of advice that I got from Val was to have a can-do attitude and to give new things a shot.

Val, what piece of advice would you give an aspiring woman leader?

Val: My advice is that what constitutes ‘success’ is personal to every individual. Capability, intellect, talent, and good luck are all factors that can help an aspiring leader to achieve successful outcomes. However, ultimately, success, or if you like, a sense of fulfilment and wellbeing, are contingent on relationships. Taking the time to relate to others, and to value your colleagues, is an imperative. It’s a cliché, but there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.  Aspiring leaders need to understand how to build and maintain vibrant teams.

Finally, for you both: do you have an inspiring woman leader, and if so, who

Karen: I am very inspired by Professor Linda Doyle, who is Director of CONNECT/CTVR Research Centre in Dublin and Professor of Engineering and The Arts in Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. She is a wonderfully passionate speaker and is an expert in her field yet is completely unassuming.

Val: It is hard to single out any one individual, as there are many characteristics among many female leaders that are inspiring. For example, Ellen MacArthur, is an amazing example of someone with vision and an indefatigable determination to succeed. As a professional sailor, she broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005. Her autobiography, which I just re-read, is incredibly compelling. Since she retired from professional sailing, she founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to promote the Circular Economy, prompted, in part, by her acute awareness of debris in the ocean. In business, Sheryl Sandberg stands out, for her communication skills. I admire her for her honesty, and in her ability to use her influence to tackle the issue of gender equality in the workplace. Angela Merkel also deserves a mention, as a political leader committed to stability in a difficult time for the European project.

 


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 2017-18 are available here.

Want to be more successful? Start with the end in mind

Maeve Lankford leads the Vision Workshop. 

Following on from the annual Aurora Conference 2017 Aurora ambassador, Maeve Lankford, shares insights from her workshop, Vision.

There is a saying that many of you will be aware of: “There is no wind favourable to the sailor with no destination in mind”. In order for us to achieve success in life, in our careers, in our relationships, it starts with us knowing what we want. As Stephen Covey puts it, “begin with the end in mind.”

So what are your plans for the next three years? If you aren’t sure then read this blog to develop clear ideas for yourself to take your first steps in successfully achieving what you want.

Identify your longings and discontents

As a leader, it is important to think about where you are in your leadership journey and where you see yourself going next. Ask yourself, how do I want to develop personally and professionally? Perhaps you have just completed Aurora and are thinking about your next steps, or maybe you are planning on doing a development programme in the future? Whether you are at the start or the end of a programme, you need to know where you are heading next!  That is the essential prerequisite to achieving a successful outcome.

The Universe provides us with two signals for growth: our longings and our discontents.  As a transformational coach, many of my clients start with building their vision and goals from identifying the things that they don’t like in their current situation – unsatisfactory commute; no work-life balance; no time for family, hobbies, or the bits of your job you love. Our discontents are often the things that give us clues as to how we’d prefer things to be.

And our longings – our dreams of career success; better sleep or less stress; acknowledgement of our contribution at work, at home or in our community; time and resources for hobbies or holidays, new interests – professional or personal – these too suggest the goals we aspire to.

Your vision and goals

Once you have started to identify your longings and discontents, you can start to define your vision and goals. I recommend you take a holistic approach to this. Look across the four domains of your life – health and well-being; career and creative expression; relationships; time and money freedom – and ask yourself the question – What would I love?

Allow yourself to really dream into that question, using your imagination as vividly as you did as a child. Will you allow yourself to imagine? Does it feel too childish for the grown up academic or professional you’ve become? Remember Einstein who said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Suspend your knowledge of your current conditions and circumstances and imagine the outcomes you would love.

Once you have the end in mind. Take some time to write it all down using the following style:

  1. Start with gratitude: I am so happy and grateful now that…
  2. Write your vision in the present tense. Imagine you are describing a scene from a movie where everything is already happening just as you want it. This is a way for us to bring ideas from our imagination into current experience.

For example, you might open each section as follows:

  • I am so happy and grateful now that I am a successful leader who is admired by my peers and my staff.
  • I am so happy and grateful now that I spend quality time with my family
  • I am so happy and grateful now that I am healthy, well rested, and exercising regularly
  1. Paint the picture. Be as specific as you possibly can because the image you create transmits energy.

When you read it back, you want to get an emotional response in yourself that says ‘Yes, I LOVE this life’.  If it doesn’t feel like that when you read or speak it back, change it: keep changing it until it gives you that enthusiastic emotional response.

Live and breathe it

You’ve set your course for the outcomes you want to achieve.  In the coming days and weeks revisit your written vision regularly, preferably building it into your daily routine, consistently reminding yourself that this is the path you are on. Ask yourself each day, ‘what action can I take today that takes me in the direction of my goals? And then take that action!   As you start to achieve progress, you may well wish to make changes to your vision and goals.  This is normal.  Keep making those changes and tweaks, adding new details and goals as you achieve what you’ve set out for yourself, always seeking that emotional charge – Yes!  I love this life

When things crop up that demand your time and attention, your resources or energy, and if you’re not sure what to prioritise, ask yourself the question: ”does this take me in the direction of my vision and goals or not?” Let this help you decide whether to do something or not. Having this level of clarity and decisiveness alone will catapult you towards your end results.

In the coming weeks, we’ll share two further blogs about how to build your momentum in achieving the goals and successes you want.  We’ve started with clarity about the end result.  Next, we’ll talk about the importance of committing to your goals, and in the final blog, we’ll discuss how to overcome fears and doubts along the way.


Maeve Lankford, joined the Leadership Foundation in 2015 as Aurora Ambassador to promote Aurora in the UK and Ireland, having formerly been Aurora Champion for University College Cork. 

Maeve has over 25 years’ experience of working in personal development and growth in higher education and beyond and is currently Director of her own training and coaching company.  Having held various roles in HR, Equality, Learning and Development and Welfare, her principal expertise lies in leadership and management development, group facilitation, action learning, executive coaching, personal development, resilience and well-being.   

Details of the Aurora Conference 2018 will be available shortly, and the Aurora programme dates for 2017-18 are open for booking

An Interview with Lynda Hinxman

Lynda joined us in May 2017 as a guest speaker at the Aurora Core Leadership Skills day in London. We took some time to ask Lynda some questions about her career and progression into leadership.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is the ability to create a clear vision and to create the environment in which people can thrive and work together to achieve the vision.

It is about building your own emotional capital in order to effectively engage with others, to motivate, empower and support.

At the start of your career, what were the biggest barriers to progression you were faced with and what one piece of advice would you give to someone aspiring to a leadership role facing similar barriers?

The single biggest barrier to progressing my early career was my lack of self-confidence. I worked in a male dominated profession and thought that I had to behave and think like a man in order to progress. I have learnt over time that it is vital to be yourself not only to allow others to get to know you and gain respect but for your own wellbeing.

How important have mentors been to you in your leadership journey?

I have had both formal and informal mentors throughout my career and find them invaluable. They have provided a safe place in which to share and reflect on feelings, thoughts and ideas. They have challenged, questioned and probed but most of all they have provided guidance – I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of Yodas…….but perhaps Yoda himself might say ‘a ponder of Yodas, it is!’

How important has it been for you in your career to have role models and mentors?

Role models engender inspiration and aspiration. In my experience, they have come with no hierarchy attached – my role models have ranged from my dad, male and female bosses, team members, friends to my daughter.

Do you have one golden piece of advice you would give to aspiring women leaders?

As Oscar Wilde said ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken’.

For me this means that you can flex your style and approach to connect best with others without losing the essence of you.

Finally, who is your inspiring woman leader?

Professor Christine Booth, former Pro Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Business School – As she was not only an inspiring business woman but fabulous at connecting with others at a professional and personal level.

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Lynda Hinxman is the assistant dean, employer engagement for Sheffield Business School at Sheffield Hallam University. Lynda is a Chartered Surveyor by profession, and prior to joining Sheffield Hallam University was a senior executive at Norwich Union Investment Management and has held senior surveying roles in the Costain Group and Shell UK.

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 2017-18 are available here.

 

An interview with Brenda Romero

Brenda Romero is a leading game designer and developer. We had the pleasure of welcoming Brenda to our Dublin Adaptive Learning Skills day as part of Aurora in May 2017

1. What does good leadership mean to you?

This is a really interestingly question. There are so many answers, many pieces of advice, and many tips that I have learned on the way. However, I keep returning to the idea of a team enjoying their journey towards a goal. They need good leadership. The leader is the person making sure that their team can do what they need to do. They know the goal. They are committed to it and excited about it. The journey is easy because obstructions have been removed and hopefully, someone is working on crisis intervention – rather than crisis management. If I can keep my team focused and motivated, we shall win. To do that, I believe I have to make sure they have everything they need, by removing anything which gets in their way.

2. At the start of your career what were the biggest barriers to progression you were faced with and what advice would you give to someone aspiring to a leadership role facing similar barriers?

Ironically, I think I was my own worst enemy. When I look back at my career, there are two key things I wish I had done differently. The first is that I should not have stayed with one, family-owned company for 20 years. This sounds fantastic, but, I would have been further ahead, if I had moved onward and upward. However, after only 10 years, I needed new teachers and new lessons so, in terms of advancement, not to mention an equity stake, my opportunities were quite limited.

Secondly, I wish I had been a better advocate for myself. I accepted things that I should not have accepted. I did not take chances. I wish I had. I feared failure. I was more concerned about what others thought rather than doing the right thing. In that way, I was my biggest barrier because I simply didn’t know any better, and I found out the right way by trial, error and introspection. Having mentors to look up to, to consult, would have been so beneficial.

3. What would be some of the milestones that you think “that’s a point where my leadership changed”?

Not everyone is going to like you: As a leader, you will make decisions that are not liked by everyone.

You may have to sack people, lay people off, or be tasked with taking something in an unpopular direction. Ultimately, I find the desire to please everyone simply has to go. I remember the first time I had to sack someone for an absolutely valid offence. There was a lot of gossip but ultimately, it comes down to these questions for me, “Did I do the right thing?” and “Was I respectful of others?” That, along with keeping an open mind, are the key things.

Failure is not the end of the world: We fail all the time. Most of our failings are not public, but I find this is something many of us fear. Generally, we fear losing something we have or not getting something we want. When I did fail publicly, it was painful agony followed almost immediately by blissful glory. Once I had failed, I didn’t feel so concerned about it. I felt more comfortable about taking chances. I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of. Humiliation? Embarrassment? The loss of respect from my peers? None of it happened.

4. What would you say if someone were to ask you, what makes you most resilient?

Sometimes, I genuinely do not know. I don’t really have “I give up” in me. I am blessed with the experiences of my late mother and I’m still gaining experiences from my mother in law. Both women were homemakers who found themselves quite unexpectedly alone. There is nothing in either of their cases that ever displayed an example of “I give up”. They kept going because they had to. There was no other choice. That lesson continues to be an incredibly powerful one, especially when the proverbial “going gets tough” occurs. I don’t know of women any stronger than these two. You keep going because you have to. Help may come, and you may ask for it, but ultimately, you keep going. There is a way through. If you don’t know the answer, someone else does.

5. How important do you think mentors, role models and networks are in supporting women’s leadership?

Incredibly important. When you asked me about barriers earlier, I said that I was the biggest obstacle to my own advancement. Why? Because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t have anyone around me who could teach me. I didn’t even know the questions to ask. Working with someone more experienced, my husband is on his 11th start up, I have learned so much. I don’t hesitate to reach out to experts and we do a bi-weekly expert talk in our company, on topics on which employees ask for advice.

6. How can initiatives like Aurora help women and their organisation achieve their potential?

One of the most important things about Aurora is that it creates a space where like-minded people with similar goals and journeys come together – in search of a common, supportive, solution.

That’s extremely powerful. Having attended events like this in the past, there’s something formidable about being around people who are all aspiring to something greater and who want to help each other reach their goal. Working one-to-one with a mentor is incredibly powerful. Events like this multiply that power by bringing everyone together.

7. Thinking about your career and experiences, what advice would you give your younger self?

I would hand myself a box labelled “confidence,” and make myself swear not to open it. I would tell myself that you might think it’s empty now, but I’m here in the future to tell you that it’s full. It filled up when I took chances and failed, publicly or privately. It filled up when I swapped the “known but not-so-good” for the “unknown, possibly worse” or “possibly better.” It filled up when I was able to respect myself instead of relying on the opinions of others. It filled up when I realised that doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good. It filled up when I stopped worrying and started making things happen. Asking for help, admitting that someone had a better idea, giving myself the freedom to be a fool, none of these things took anything away. That’s why I’d give myself that box and make myself swear not to open it.

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Brenda Romero is a leading game designer and developer. Based in Galway, Ireland, Brenda has established two successful game companies – Loot Drop and Romero Games. She now also runs a game design course at Limerick University.

In April 2017, Brenda won a lifetime achievement award from Bafta Games Awards.

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 identifies actions that could be taken to change this.

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

 

From Kazakhstan to Myanmar: building capacity in higher education internationally

The Leadership Foundation has led or participated in higher education development projects in more than 30 countries in Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. What have we learnt about the common challenges that have to be overcome to build capacity in the countries in which we work?

Andy Shenstone, the Leadership Foundation’s director of consultancy, shares his experience of co-designing solutions to wicked issues in higher education systems around the world.

The Leadership Foundation’s international work takes place within a vibrant higher education environment and contributes explicitly to multiple UK higher education sector-wide objectives. These objectives include those of the UUKi, which aim to create opportunities for UK Higher Education Institutions to establish new relationships with overseas providers and the promotion of UK higher education internationally. It also addresses the governments expressed priority as regards to enhancing the international standing of UK higher education. Finally, the Leadership Foundation is committed to supporting the development of more robust and autonomous higher education systems in overseas nations including contributing to the wider UK government agenda of supporting capacity-building as a key plank of overseas development through the Newton fund and other programmes.

Each country we’ve worked with has had very different characteristics – which is perhaps not surprising if you consider that we’ve worked in countries as diverse as Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Egypt. Yet, there are still some fundamental similarities in the challenges these countries face, and how we work together to overcome them.

The first challenge is that, generally, higher education provision is underdeveloped. Typically, it has been managed through command and control mechanisms, through government diktat and tight management. That manifests in ways that those of us familiar with the UK system would find very difficult to comprehend. For example, in Egypt, principals or vice-chancellors have virtually no discretion over who to appoint and certainly no capacity or capability to let anyone go or dismiss staff for poor performance. In Myanmar, any significant leader in an institution is forcibly rotated to anywhere in the country every three years, with no choice over where they are sent, regardless of their seniority. In the Ukraine, the direction of travel is moving away from a Soviet-era command and control model to one which is more reminiscent of western and UK models of institutional autonomy but, of course, it will take quite a significant time to make that journey.

Leadership capability
Generally speaking, we find that our clients in overseas countries want to enhance the leadership and management capability of university leadership. Allied to that, there is a keen interest in establishing resilient and sustainable processes for identifying and supporting a pipeline of future leaders – succession planning. Inevitably, if you are the leader of a university and have achieved that position of seniority by dint of your approach under the existing model of governance and politics, that may well mean that you are, perhaps, ill-equipped to be an effective leader in the future when the political and social environment is going to change, potentially quite significantly. That places particular demands on you to develop your skills and capabilities. That isn’t to say such change isn’t possible, but it can be demanding and, of course, longer term, simply focusing on those who are in roles already misses the point. That is, to build capacity to bring forward future leaders who have the skills, capabilities, attitudes and insights that their countries need to develop and modernise their higher education systems. That’s what we’re in the business of doing.

Legislative framework
Another key challenge in global higher education, for a number of countries, is that while they aspire to modernise higher education leadership, governance, and management, the legislative framework (which establishes the boundaries of what is or is not possible under the terms of the law) often takes quite a long time to change. So while there’s a need to develop individuals and direct the travel of leadership in a way which may well speak to an agenda of greater institutional autonomy – and support institutional leaders to develop their own strategies – they have to feel that they’ve got permission to do that. They’ve got to feel safe to do that. They’ve got to feel that the system at large is providing them with the framework within which they can operate.

Take Myanmar. Up until very recently if you said or did the ‘wrong thing’, the impact on you personally could be very significant. That included speaking out and having any ideas of your own that were not acceptable to the military junta that ruled the country for over 40 years. It therefore takes a significant amount of bravery to start behaving outside the norms of those practices. Individuals, naturally, will be very cautious. Having some confidence in the integrity of a redesigned legal framework, which empowers them to behave differently but is also respected by the government and powers that be, is crucial. One of the challenges we face is ensuring that the ambition of change is aligned with those national structures and legal systems, because if they don’t develop hand in hand, you end up with major tensions arising and a real risk of disconnect.

Finance
The other key challenge facing global higher education is finance – how it is all paid for. Budgets are under significant pressure. Where you have challenges around education provision in developing, or even middle income, countries, primary care and schooling are often prioritised and higher education can sometimes be lower down the pecking order. Which means, in turn, that it can be difficult to recruit and retain talented people, who may well be attracted to work in other industries or find it much more economically and personally attractive to leave to work in other countries.

Co-design
At the Leadership Foundation we know a lot about working overseas, borne out of our applied experience in many different countries and geopolitical contexts. Fundamental to our work is a deep appreciation of the importance of us coming to understand the context in which any particular intervention or support might be provided. Critically, this concerns the degree of maturity and capability of the existing higher education sector and the outcomes that are sought.

Our international work is intended to deliver on three levels; firstly, create partnership opportunities for our UK member institutions as a direct product of service design and co-delivery. Secondly, to assist in the internationalisation of our programmes (and through this provide exposure for members on domestic programmes to international practice). And finally, be expressly valued by members and key external stakeholders (e.g. UUKi, BIS and the British Council) as a contribution to the status, reputation and reach of UK higher educations.

Underlining it all is our listening and co-design approach to working with other countries, which means that we are not only be incredibly sensitive and mindful of an individual nation’s needs and context, but we will offer ideas and solutions borne out of that experience that will assist them to achieve their goals.

Embedding capacity building
We typically look to develop solutions which embed capacity building within the national context|: training the trainers and enhancing the capacity of the workforce with whom we’re dealing to take forward the work that we are doing with them. We do not support, condone, create or facilitate a culture of undue dependence.

And, important in all the work we do overseas is to deeply respect, understand and appreciate other countries’ accomplishments. Ours is not a deficit model but a model of adding value by bringing in a genuinely international experience to support colleagues in these countries to tackle the quite wicked issues they are trying to resolve.


The Leadership Foundation has recently launched a global services brochure, which details all of the services we offer as well as examples of their impact. To download your copy of the brochure please click here.

Alison Johns, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation will chairing a session ‘Future scoping for higher education leadership’ at Going Global 2017 on Tuesday 23 May 2017. Andy Shenstone, director of consultancy and business development will also be attending, if you would like to arrange a meeting please email andy.shenstone@lfhe.ac.uk.

For more information on the global works of the Leadership Foundation, please visit the website: www.lfhe.ac.uk/international

Leading People is Leading Diversity

‘Reality is diverse; therefore a true reflection of reality includes diversity.’  Nancy Kline

Shirley Wardell, programme director of our research leadership development programmes discusses the importance of encouraging diverse thinking and insight into the valuable skills every leader should prioritise.

I have come to think of the skills leaders need to understand the diversity issues as mainstream leadership skills.  To my mind managing people is managing diversity. Diversity goes beyond minority groups and the obvious power imbalances.  Diversity extends to the subtle depth of how we think, which has a direct impact on how well we perform in our jobs.

Diversity grows when people have the ability to hear, openly, what everybody thinks.  Having practised that skill, with people we believe are similar to us, we may be better prepared to listen to those we assume are more different to us.  The charming surprise is; that as Maya Angelou says, ‘We are more similar than we are different.’ Once we have accepted that we are more likely to be similar in a broad way, appreciating the specific differences seems to be the key.  So how can we be sure that we are able to allow, or even encourage, different ways of thinking?

I choose the Thinking Environment® to help me, and my clients, to create the conditions for diverse thinking to flourish. When you run an event in a Thinking Environment®; everyone has a turn. That means; you go round the group and ask everyone what they think.  Sometimes people tell me it takes too long, but they are really stumped when I ask them who they would leave out of the round.

In an event such as this no-one interrupts and participant say; ‘If I don’t interrupt, I might forget my idea?’ And again, they look a bit blank when I ask, ‘What if the person you interrupt forgets theirs?’ Giving turns, not interrupting, appreciating each other, asking how to make things better and a positive philosophy are a few of the ways to get everyone involved in a productive way.

The Thinking Environment® has ten components; however there are a few principles that sum it up for me:

  • The way we listen to someone has an impact on the quality of their thinking.  If we are able focus on them, stop judging and create a time and space for them; the quality of their thinking improves.  At a recent workshop I asked how it feels to be listened to really well and people said they felt valued, important, as if their ideas matter, that they have a contribution to make, happy, it improved their self esteem, relaxed and intelligent.  Well, if all those things can be achieved by, ‘just listening’ we should perhaps put listening at the top of the leadership skills list.
  • When you think on behalf of someone else you are disempowering them.  When you think your ideas are better, or you are simply too busy for them to find their own answer, you are stopping them from thinking and therefore stopping them from learning and growing.  Being able to develop staff has become one of the most valuable assets to Institutions and leaders who can do this will have the evidence of their success in their research output.
  • A positive philosophy is required to help people perform well.  Our expectations will have an impact on the outcomes.  Those expectations include what I expect from the person and what my prejudices are about that person. I need to be able to see there are numerous and unknown possibilities yet to be achieved for every individual.
  • We also need to examine our assumptions about the world.  What we expect to be possible in this office, this organisation, this market, this country and this world; will have an impact on our own and our team’s thinking.  Leadership training needs to explore the assumptions we make and the impact that has on performance; and then show how to, pragmatically, choose assumptions that will help us perform better.

Research Team Leadership and Leading Research Leaders are run in a Thinking Environment® and include many of the reliable principles and actions that help research leaders to think. They are then able to pass that favour on to their teams and collaborators.

The Thinking Environment® was developed by Nancy Kline of Time to Think

Find out more about Shirley Wardell by visiting our website www.lfhe.ac.uk/resprog

Up for a challenge: self-directed group learning for leaders

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If our role as educators of adults is to enhance their capacity for self-directed learning, how does that apply to leadership development training? Doug Parkin, director of the Leadership Foundation’s Future Professional Directors programme, reflects on his experience of designing transformational self-directed group learning activities for leaders.

From work with a thousand students in a thousand lecture halls, we all know how easy it can be to leave learning at the classroom door. The lesson may have been interesting, insightful, even entertaining – but if nothing changes in the learner, their thinking, action or beliefs, then was it learning at all?  Consider the difference between these two statements:

  • I taught them how to tie their shoes, but they still can’t do it!
  • I helped them learn how to tie their shoes and they’ve been doing it ever since.

There is a fascinating idea from social development theory that it is the appreciation, use and application of something by another that gives it true definition. So, if they “still can’t” tie their shoes, then was it really teaching?

Leadership development needs to be transformational in its impact. Whether that is a complete reinvention by someone of their identity as a leader, arising from intense self-reflection, or a new perspective on just one aspect of how to lead, the transformation needs to be fully committed and sustainable. A multi-faceted, experiential learning environment is the basis for such transformations, combining variety, examples, appropriate models, challenging experiences, reflection, individualised feedback, strong opportunities for professional and social exchange, and, critically, opportunities for self-directed learning.

When we designed the Future Professional Directors (FPD) programme we set ourselves the goal of including, among a variety of innovative elements, an entirely self-directed group activity.  We came up with Challenge Groups: groups of three or four participants from different higher education institutions working together on a common area of leadership challenge. Step one would involve each Challenge Group identifying a question of high current relevance to all group members that could become the basis for an active enquiry process. The Challenge Groups would then work independently alongside the eight months of the programme itself to explore the question from multiple perspectives using their own institutional contexts as a resource, and also looking more widely, possibly at other sectors. While we did not have a formal assessment mechanism, we built in the use of feedback. This came from tutors on the original question and proposal (including a tailored stimulus webinar for each group), from peers through a mid-point review, and then from peers and tutors through online comments on the finished work.

As part of their application to join the FPD programme, all participants were asked to identify three leadership challenges: a people challenge, a change challenge and a stakeholder challenge. The information provided formed the basis for deciding the Challenge Groups, clustering participants so far as we could around common themes or areas of interest. It was then a delight to see the questions which emerged as the groups identified their area for shared, collaborative enquiry.

Three of the areas explored by the first cohort of FPD included:

  • Leading potential and performance – particularly the difference between leading performance and managing performance, and the role of personal inspiration.
  • Achieving common goals with influential stakeholders where there may be conflicting priorities – and developing as part of this a model of influence specifically tailored for the higher education context and its values.
  • How to achieve change through a collaborative approach – based on survey responses, a set of overarching recommendations were produced for collaborative, cross-boundary leadership.

Other groups looked at the role of trust and values in authentic leadership, developing a template communication strategy for leading change, and managing the needs of diverse stakeholders through complex change.

As well as the impressive outputs, and the sharing of these, we also invited participants to reflect on the process of engaging in the Challenge Group activity, particularly the group development, the sharing of leadership, and the cross-institutional/cross-service working.  These reflections showed how strongly participants had valued sharing different perspectives, building relationships, working through the uncertainty of defining the task, seeing roles and strengths emerge, and the opportunity for independent working and research.  There was also high value in delivering a tangible outcome, with both group and individual benefits firmly linked to real work-based leadership challenges.

Through self-direction, within the framework of a fully supported programme, the participants found a new gateway to both personal discovery and lasting professional friendships.

In his ambitious model of Vertical Leadership Development, Nick Petrie argues for the importance of ‘colliding perspectives’ (the who), ‘heat experiences’ (the what) and ‘elevated sensemaking’ (the how), and it was rewarding to see how some of the FPD Challenge Group work, alongside other experiential elements on FPD such as live case studies, business simulations and strategic dialogues, went a long way towards achieving this.  As Malcolm Gladwell powerfully observed “we learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction”.

As the quote below highlights, one of the other clear benefits of an extended leadership programme with a variety of types of learner engagement, including significant self-directed elements and action learning, is the relationships that form, with a life beyond the programme itself.

“The Future Professional Directors programme content and people were amazing and challenging. Having so many like-minded people in one room gave us the ability to talk freely and openly about the opportunities and challenges we face in the sector. We will remain a close network for years to come. With its mix of presentations, live case studies and visiting externals from academic and professional services, the programme gave us personal confidence and practical insight into what it takes to be an authentic leader in our large complex organisations in the 21st century.”

Chris Parry, University of Nottingham, head of global IT change delivery – academic portfolio

Doug Parkin is programme director of Future Professional Directors, working alongside Tracy Bell Reeves, both at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Doug is also the author of ‘Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The key guide to designing and delivering courses’.  The book explores contemporary ideas on leadership, engagement and student learning into a practical solutions-based resource designed for those undertaking the challenge of leading a university-level teaching module, programme or suite of programmes, particularly through periods of transformation or change. 

Find out more: Future Professional Directors