Learning by experience to build flexible, resilient leaders

Programme Directors Lisa Sofianos and Gary ReadAhead of the Strategic Leadership Programme later this academic year, programme directors Lisa Sofianos and Gary Reed reflect on why experiential learning is a key part of the programme.

Poor Einstein has been mercilessly mined for inspirational quotes for many years, but here’s one we can’t resist: “The only source of knowledge is experience”. We are unlike Einstein in many ways, but on this we share his commitment to the value of experiential learning in transforming abstract theory into practical knowledge. This is one of the tenets that informs and shapes the design of the Strategic Leadership Programme (SLP).

Another is that, on SLP, we know that we are working with people who are already effective in their roles running complex academic institutions. With this firmly in our minds, we see our job as facilitators is to offer provocations and reframing to help participants move their thinking somewhere new. For us, this is the real work of leadership development, with responsibilities on both sides to learn.

So far so good, but how does this translate into programme activity? 
SLP alumni tell us one of the elements they really value is the simulation exercise where participants take a role in the leadership team of a fictitious – but oddly familiar – university. Their task is to work together to complete some stretching challenges set by the “vice chancellor”. They present their solutions back to the “Executive Board” and are given specific and constructive feedback on their process.

The simulation allows participants to experiment with organisational dynamics in an environment that is safe and removed from the immediacy of their own organisational context. They can take risks, try out the new ideas they have encountered earlier in the programme, and not worry about the consequences, beyond what they can learn from them. This is not a role-play, rather participants are encouraged to step outside their tried and tested approaches and begin to find their own authentic expression of leadership.

Past participants say the real value of this exercise is in helping them to gain insights into:

  • How they operate in a group of leaders and their ideas about roles and responsibilities
  • How they lead and are affected by group dynamics
  • Their assumptions about organisations and their own institutions
  • How they react to pressure
  • How they prioritise and maintain focus
  • Their levels of creativity

The environment is fast-paced and complex, but it is safe and supportive, and most importantly, fun!

And that highlights another of our tenets. Serious learning in a fun, relaxed, and safe environment is an indispensable SLP ingredient.

We look forward to you joining us on the programme.


The Strategic Leadership Programme is for aspiring senior leaders and aims to build leaders who are flexible and resilient.

Find out more and apply:
Strategic Leadership Programme
Application Deadline: Friday 4 May 2018
Module 1: Wednesday 16 – Thursday 17 May 2018
Module 2: Tuesday 26 – Thursday 28 June
Location: Birmingham

Lisa Sofianos has recently co-authored a Leadership Foundation stimulus paper, Exploring the Impact of Coaching in Higher Education, which is available online for members of the Leadership Foundation. 

Why mentors and networks are so important

Maxine de Brunner was previously deputy assistant commissioner, Metropolitan Police. She will join us on the 13 March 2018 as a guest speaker at the Aurora Adaptive Leadership Skills day in Edinburgh. Ahead of her talk, Maxine reflects on the importance of mentorships and support networks for women to progress to top leadership positions.

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself
I spent thirty years in policing and retired as a deputy assistant commissioner in 2016. I have led many large teams as the director of intelligence and the London ‘prepare’ lead for counter-terrorism.

I spent the last two years as the transformation director. I am most proud of helping others develop as leaders, transforming an organisation and trooping the colour on horseback with the Queen. I have spent that last two years running my own business and working with two education charities.

What does good leadership mean to you?
Good leadership means being prepared to admit when you’re wrong, recognising that it is others who deliver for you and the investment you make in people will pay you back many times over. Great leadership is all about the teams you build and the guidance you give them. Supporting them when things go wrong and taking the responsibility for the difficulties while allowing your team the limelight when things go well. As a leader, it is not about you but your people.

For you as a woman, what has been your greatest insight in terms of your journey to leadership?
Understanding that great teams need balance, not just in terms of gender but all aspects of diversity. I have found that you have to be determined, focused, prepared to work very hard as well as be willing and able to negotiate and influence.

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?
The biggest barrier at the start of my journey was that there were no women at the top of my organisation and very few in the lower ranks. Women did not have equal pay, pension rights and did not receive the same officer safety training as male colleagues. They were viewed as necessary to look after children and deal with sexual assault cases. I think the most powerful thing women can do when facing barriers is to join together so that they can influence as a single body.

What would be some of the milestones that you think “that’s a point where my leadership changed”?
The main milestone for me was understanding that you could have children and still have a great career. I was given a project when I came back from maternity leave, but I thought (as is the law) that I should have my old job back. I found that I had to insist on this requirement and in the end, they gave in and allowed me to return to my job. I wanted to come back four days a week but did not have the courage to ask for this. My mentor brokered the subject on my behalf and helped me negotiate my first year back.

What would you say if someone were to ask you, what makes you most resilient?
Being reflective and prepared to debrief your own actions, decisions and consequences. I think when times are hard it helps to focus on positive outcomes and not internalise situations. They are not usually personal but about the business, but it is easy to forget that. It also helps to have self-belief and confidence that what you are doing is right. That confidence will come from outcomes, achievements and your network.

What is the biggest insight you’ve had from working with women in higher education on their leadership journey, the opportunities and the challenges?
I have found through my work in education that there are many women in teaching but many senior positions are still often filled by men. Women work incredibly hard in their roles, but senior women colleagues have also focused on themselves and taken time to invest in themselves, have a clear plan to achieve their goals. Leadership is not just about doing the tasks really well, it is also about having the confidence to look up into the future.

How important do you think mentors, role models and networks are in supporting women’s leadership?
The role of mentors and networks must never be underestimated. Being part of a strong group of women gives you the power to negotiate your futures. It is vital that women don’t give this away.

Just look at the recent BBC pay gap situation, a group of women joined together to talk as one body. That helps take the heat away from individuals, and where there are individual positions taken, they are fully supported by the group. It’s very powerful and I have no doubt they will achieve a fair outcome.

How can initiatives like Aurora help women and their organisation achieve their potential?
Aurora can help women understand the values of mentoring and group influence while giving practical tools and help on the journey. It can inspire many to believe in themselves.

Thinking about your career and experiences, what advice would you give your younger self?
I think if I was starting again I would have got involved in a network much earlier as being alone was much harder and many heads are much better than one when problems arise.

Finally, do you have an inspiring woman leader, and if so, who?
The most inspiring woman leader I have met is a lady called Barbara Wilding, she retired as the chief constable of South Wales Police. Barbara mentored me, employed me in a senior role when I thought it was impossible, encouraged me and sponsored me for senior courses and strategic command. She was a great leader herself and cared deeply about others. She was very careful not to pull the ladder up behind her but develop the leaders of tomorrow. I owe her a great deal. It was her influence that enabled me to be supported as a chief officer and whenever things went well or even not so well, she wrote to me with her thoughts. I still have her letters today.


About Aurora
Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Since Aurora began in 2013 we have welcomed 4,635 women from 139 universities and sector bodies, with 1,158 women attending in 2017-18 alone.

Dates, location and booking
We will shortly be releasing the Aurora dates for 2018-19. To register your interest please get in touch aurora@lfhe.ac.uk.

Onwards and Upwards longitudinal study
In March 2018, the Leadership Foundation released the year 2 Aurora Longitudinal Study as a Leadership Insight.

 

If it’s not working…

In the second of our series of posts for our spring 2018 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat for higher education leaders and governors, Roger Kline author of The Snowy White Peaks of the NHS and former joint director of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard, compares and contrasts approaches to race policy between higher education and NHS.

Eighteen years ago, the Macpherson Report explored institutional racism in the Metropolitan police with implications for UK public services. Research from the time showed that in higher education, black and minority ethnic (BME) staff were disadvantaged in terms of recruitment, employment status and career progression  while BME students were more likely to be found in new universities, were more likely to drop out, were less likely to be awarded good honours degrees and less likely to do well in the labour market.

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000) set out specific duties for universities on both widening participation strategies for students and strengthened equal opportunities for staff. Despite the initiatives this prompted, progress for both BME staff and students (and in senior governance across the sector) has remained glacial. The NHS faces similar challenges. It had not applied to itself the rigour it expects when analysing clinical challenges. There had been no serious evaluation of existing strategies, and a flawed approach to improvement, underpinned by denial of the scale of discrimination.

There is no shortage of evidence about what does and doesn’t work in workforce equality. The Audit Commission (2004) set out a framework of “what works”, our own literature search (2015) came to similar conclusions and informed a three-pronged approach to NHS workforce discrimination:

  1. Reducing workforce race inequality became part of the national NHS commissioning contract making it mandatory for NHS providers (including private sector ones) to demonstrate they are starting to close the gap between the treatment and experience of White and BME staff as captured by nine indicators.
  2. Such progress (or lack of it) became part of the Care Quality Commission regulatory inspection framework, specifically a significant part of the evidence as to whether NHS providers were “well led” or not.
  3. The data is all published, and benchmarked.

The focus was on measurable outcomes not just on improved processes, and the details of such progress (or otherwise), are published every year. In 2016 we then drew from both the literature and best practice across the public and private sectors the “shared characteristics of effective interventions”. We noted how NHS funding sanctions (and incentives) linked to measurable Athena SWAN progress became an effective means of challenging gender discrimination in STEM subjects in higher education.

We noted six key characteristics, as applicable to higher education as they have been to the NHS:

  1. Acknowledge and name the problem. In the NHS, avoidance and denial became no more acceptable in equality than in other NHS challenges such as infection control or mortality rates. In higher education, the post MacPherson Hefce funding letters were not explicit about race or ethnicity and the performance indicators used related to social class as a proxy instead. As early as 2005 Hefce reported that the initiatives ‘appear to have had the greatest impact on the role and reward of women in the majority of institutions’ and as a result ‘the role of minority ethnic groups.. has received much less emphasis…compared to the emphasis on gender equality’.
  2. Insist on detailed scrutiny of workforce and staff survey data to identify the specific challenges that NHS Trusts as a whole, or individual departments or services or occupations may have on race equality. Don’t hide from uncomfortable facts. Crucially, listen and act on what BME staff and students say.
  3. See workforce equality as integral to service improvement not just to compliance – as part of providing better services and improving staff well-being, not as a separate discrete task. The Leadership Foundation and the Equality Challenge Unit are working to demonstrate the links between treating BME staff well and the benefits to students and the organisation, not just the BME staff. We learnt it is essential to have a powerful evidenced narrative that explains how discriminatory recruitment, development and appointment systems, for example, waste talent and impact adversely on service provision whether it be patient care (or on the teaching and support of BME students, the talent pool for research, and the effectiveness of the university).
  4. Learn from previous failed approaches to workforce equality which relied excessively on policies, procedures and diversity training (including unconscious bias training). The literature demonstrates such approaches (as in tackling wider cultural challenges) will not work in isolation and excessively rely on individual members of staff being brave or foolish enough to raise concerns, complaints or grievances about discrimination. Senior institutional leadership must take prime responsibility, for example, for talent management and career development and be proactive in developing staff and challenging discrimination, in a radical break with the culture of allowing departments to recruit, often developing and promoting “people like us” or those who might “best fit in”. 
  5. Strategies and specific interventions must be evidence driven and be able to answer the question “why do you think this will work?”
  6. Above all, accountability is crucial. Unless leaders model the behaviours expected of others, face uncomfortable truths, are held to account and hold others to account, insisting on evidenced interventions with locally developed targets, even the best intentions will not bring about change.

This approach has shown some early and significant progress. For example, some 2000 additional BME nurses and midwives appear to have gained more senior positions in 2014-2017 whilst the relative likelihood of BME staff being disciplined has started falling.

Despite the best efforts of the Leadership Foundation, Equality Challenge Unit and others in higher education institutions I sense similar challenges to those the NHS faces. The Civil Service have recently adopted a completely new strategy using similar principles. The Leadership Foundation’s Retreat (for senior executives and governors in universities) in April might usefully consider whether the time has come to consider adopting similar principles, including whether Hefce funding should be linked to HEIs demonstrating measurable improvement year-on-year in the treatment and experience of both staff and students from BME backgrounds compared to that of White staff and students. Ministers are supporting that approach in the NHS and the civil service. Why not in higher education?

Roger Kline is the author of The Snowy White Peaks of the NHS and was joint director of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard for its first two years (2015-2017). He is Research Fellow at Middlesex University Business School.

Read the first blog in this series, Diversity – are universities sincerely up for change? by Simon Fanshawe, Leadership Foundation associate and partner at Diversity by Design. 

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. 

Wisdom, grit and compassion

Leadership Summit, June 29 2018

Doug Parkin, programme director, Leadership Foundation explores what it means to be a leader with wisdom, grit and compassion within the context of the current higher education environment. Wisdom, grit and compassion are the stimulus for this year’s Leadership Summit 2018.

In a complex and rapidly evolving environment it takes wisdom for leaders to see that the answers lie in freedom rather than control, in engagement at least as much as direction, and in openness as an antidote to closed management.  It takes the strength of wisdom to see beyond the difficulties of today into the vast potential of tomorrow.  It takes both wisdom and grit to hold fast to a vision that makes a difference in the world; a purpose, cause or belief that transcends the turbulence of change.  And it takes wisdom and compassion to appreciate the impact of positive emotions on individual, team and organisational performance and the importance of creating organisations that people enjoy.

The Leadership Summit has been designed as an opportunity to strip away some of the complexity and get back to a small number of simple and powerful messages that lie at the heart of great, authentic leadership.  It is also an opportunity to engage with some of the most significant developments in leadership and governance that are taking place within and around the Higher Education sector at the current time.

We begin with three wisdoms:

Wisdom of self – “Knowing one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals – and their impact on others” Daniel Goleman,

Wisdom of others – In his book Flourish,  Martin Seligman  tells us that “… very little that is positive is solitary” and experience shows time and again that it takes collective commitment for organisations to succeed;

Wisdom of context – leadership always takes place in a context and needs to be attuned to the unique needs, challenges and cultural dimensions that make that context wonderfully special.

But wisdom can easily ebb away if it is not cherished and maintained by grit and personal resilience.  The fickle needs of transient agendas can take over, and before we know it we are focused more on structures than people, and more on crude outputs than transformational goals.  No one has written more powerfully and persuasively about the idea of grit than Angela Duckworth in her amazing book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  She makes it clear that “Enthusiasm is common; endurance is rare” and describes how “…. grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time,” whether at an individual or organisational level, and making it so interesting and clear that “most mid-level and low-level goals are, in some way or another, related to that ultimate goal”.  Her central, very focused message in Grit is that “the most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary”.

And with regard to compassion, our starting point is that engagement is a feeling.  It is a feeling that is fundamentally influenced by the emotional tone of the environment in which we find ourselves – the environment in which we either thrive or stagnate.  A key message for teachers is that very often ‘people won’t care what you know until they know that you care’.  In many ways the same rule applies to leadership.  Showing genuine concern is the cornerstone of collaborative leadership, whether in one-to-one supervision or as the head of a large prestigious institution.  Do you have the humility and the compassion to care for those you lead, and the courage to display this authentically?  If so, that can create the kind of trust and engagement that releases high levels of potential, personal energy and performance: compassion and passion are two sides of the same coin.  It also underpins a positive environment, and is part of a leader’s core responsibility to create an organisation that people enjoy.  It is part of their life, after all, whether they are staff, student, visitor, collaborator, community member or anyone else.

To hate is always foolish, and to love is always wise.  And perhaps the greatest wisdom of all is captured in what we could presumptuously call “Leadership value number one: love others and be kind to yourselfDoug Parkin.

Booking is now open for the Leadership Summit 2018 Wisdom, Grit and Compassion, which is taking place on Friday 29 June 2018 in London. Find out more here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/Summit2018

We are delighted to announce that David Taylor best-selling author of the Naked Leader, will be closing the conference with his work on the importance of authenticity with leaders.

Doug Parkin’s book Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Key Guide to designing and delivering courses was published by Routledge in 2017.

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.