Sustainable change: moving from driven to organic approaches

Doug Parkin, programme director, reflects on the live case study that is one of the centrepiece learning activities on the Future Professional Directors Programme.  The case study contributed by the University of Hertfordshire in March this year captured the essence of co-inquiry as a process for engagement and change. 

With thanks to Gill Sadler, Head of Planning, Development and Change at the University of Hertfordshire for her input and support.

People don’t resist change, they resist being changed (something done to them)Peter M Senge.

Terms like ownership, having a voice, creating buy-in and personal investment will be familiar to many leaders who have considered what it means to create staff engagement with organisational change. Likewise, through their own experience or the wisdom of others, they will have reflected on the importance of high quality communication outlining the need for change, the purpose of change, the benefits of change and the process through which change will be achieved. Often these reflections are framed ‘in absentia’ where either the lack of engagement or the poverty of communication caused the change initiative to falter or fail. And these menu-like observations regarding the ingredients for leading successful and sustainable change, including engagement, communication and having a compelling vision, have become well established in the change literature. For example, in 1996 John Kotter identified undercommunicating as ‘Error #4’ in the thinking which gave rise to his well-known 8-Step Change Model:

“Without credible communication, and a lot of it, employee’s hearts and minds are never captured.”

However, this methodology of change can feel very driven. These steps or stages can come across as leadership imperatives that are ‘done to others’ within a system. The leader (or leadership group) develops a vision, communicates, creates buy-in, develops a sense of ownership, looks to highlight early signs of progress, and so on. It is, perhaps, questionable how well such ‘driven’ approaches work in collaborative environments with committed teams and empowered individuals, such as the modern university context. Do we need a more organic approach that is about co-creating change? Do we need engagement to be the very means by which change takes place rather than something leaders strive for within a more abstract process? And if change is to be about culture as well as systems and structures, then is a more organic, engagement-driven approach essential?

The Leadership Foundation’s Future Professional Directors (FPD) programme aims to support the development of leaders who can not only thrive in a culture of change but also work collaboratively with diverse communities of colleagues to develop collective commitment, shared purpose and new and enhanced ways of working together. Key ideas relating to this approach are:

  • Co-inquiry – The principle of working “‘with’ rather than ‘on’ people”
  • Collaborative engagement“The key to collaborative engagement… is to bring people together and ask good questions”
  • An appreciative spirit“We need to discover the root causes of success rather than the root causes of failure”
  • Being at ease with complexity – Containing “the anxiety of creative activity in the midst of… complexity”

The live case study

To explore these ideas actively and have a hands-on experience of this approach we have introduced a live case study as the centrepiece for the first three-day residential FPD module. An unfolding inquiry process is used to work with the university team contributing the case study.  It is a ‘live’ case study because it is real, still active in the institutional context concerned and has further stages to run, and levels of complexity to scale as a change initiative. This year, in March 2017, the live case study was generously contributed by the University of Hertfordshire based on their highly innovative Engagement Driven Approach to Process Improvement (EDA).  The case study was led by Gill Sadler, Head of Planning, Development and Change, with colleagues from the University of Hertfordshire’s Improvement and Change Team and other colleagues from across the university who had been active participants in and champions of the EDA.

In outline, the learning process for the live case study follows a reflective structure that combines both looking back and projecting forwards. The shorter ‘looking back’ phase, focussed on the story so far, is an opportunity for the group to explore things like the strategic context, drivers for change, different organisational perspectives and key decisions.  Most of the time is then spent on the ‘projecting forwards’ phase. The FPD participants work with the live case study team on three questions or themes identified by the team in advance that open up an active inquiry into the future of the project or initiative and particularly next steps. Working in teams, the final stage of the exercise involves the FPD participants presenting back to the live case study team their impressions, recommendations and challenges. Alongside the exercise, we invite participants to reflect on the idea of internal consultancy as part of the skills-set for enabling transformational and sustainable change using collaborative engagement. In one sense, the live case study could be regarded as a piece of collaborative consultancy.

An engagement driven approach

What was exceptional about the live case study this year was the close fit between the University of Hertfordshire’s change initiative and the process and principles we were using. Gill Sadler summarises the engagement driven approach as:

“An approach to process improvement within Higher Education that focuses on people, taking differing perspectives seriously, in an iterative process of improvement to enhance both individual and organisational capability. Key to its success is early and ongoing engagement with staff not as stakeholders but as full members of the improvement team.

The approach brings people together at the beginning of a project and encourages their involvement throughout. It focuses on facilitating discussion, raising awareness of processes, improving communications and building relationships.”

Within the live case study exercise, this close alignment between what we were exploring, an approach to change based on collaborative engagement, and the style of learning activity we were using to engage with it (also collaborative engagement) created a real sense of excitement. The learning itself became very deep, highly energised and multi-layered.  Everything became about engagement, from the questions the FPD participants asked and the way they asked them through to the detailed narratives the Hertfordshire team were able to share. There was, for example, something fascinating and liberating about the way Hertfordshire had defined engagement based on four levels:

  • Attraction – to interest
  • Involvement – to draw in
  • Connection – to bring together
  • Bond – to build relationships (Ibid.)

As the FPD participants discovered, through the examples shared, these levels were used as references in the selection of engagement practices for different change projects.

Considering the involvement of senior leaders, it was also valuable to reflect on the role of effective sponsorship for the success of an engagement driven initiative:

“We found that strong, visible and accessible sponsorship was essential for the success of an engagement driven project. By demonstrating active commitment to engagement, sponsors set the tone and mood of the review.” (Ibid.)

Mutual learning

A key premise for the live case study is mutual learning. It is a purposeful approach which should benefit the live case study team as much as it does the course participants. Reflecting on this after the event, Gill Sadler made the following observations regarding the Hertfordshire team’s experience of the exercise:

“The case study provided us with a safe environment away from the pressures and distractions of `business as usual’ to review the way in which we use our approach to change. By bringing to the event both members of the change team and colleagues affected by engagement driven change, we benefitted again from those different perspectives on which the approach is based.  We had a unique opportunity to reflect on our `elephants in the room’ – those tricky issues that we knew were there but which we had been unable or unwilling to address! The FPD participants provided innovative and diverse ideas on how we can move forward.  Free consultancy – what’s not to like!”

Learning points and take-aways

In terms of specific learning points, take-aways, new insights and realisations that the Hertfordshire team gained to apply to both current and future initiatives, Gill highlighted the following:

  • The case study emphasised what we already knew – the engagement driven approach takes time and commitment but is well worth the investment.
  • The approach needs all players to remain engaged through what may be a lengthy process; this sustained engagement must be supported and resourced.
  • The case study reminded us that the model is not suitable for all change situations. For example, where change must be delivered quickly or there are fixed parameters (such as legislative change or cost reductions), it is difficult to apply the model in full. However, elements and principles of the approach may still help to progress such change.
  • Early engagement with a committed sponsor is essential and the sponsor must remain visible, engaged and committed through the process.
  • Project boundaries must be clear with `red lines’ open and transparent but flexibility is essential if significant issues emerge which challenge the scope.
  • Participants will develop trust in the process if any issues can be raised and recorded. If those issues are in scope they must be considered, if they’re not, they will be captured and redirected or addressed at a later date. Trust grows if participants see their views and comments are not being ignored.
  • Senior managers need support in hearing what may be tough messages. People watch the way managers respond to these messages and see it as evidence of the culture of the organisation.
  • Communication is key – a range of channels must be made available for comment, including confidential ones. The wider change team must be kept informed, even when there may not be much progress to report.
  • The case study reminded us that an organisation must always be aware of the impact change has on service delivery. Few organisations have the luxury of isolating or suspending a service whilst change happens.

Using engagement organically as the very means by which change takes place is the key to the engagement driven approach or people-powered change. It is not only empowering, energising and interactive, it also draws people into strategic thinking, and uses them as a resource to re-imagine or co-create the future. It brings change leadership out from behind closed doors and makes it an active and involving part of organisational life, and it is also a key means of sharing leadership.


Doug Parkin is the programme director for the Future Professional Directors programme at the Leadership Foundation. He also runs a number of other bespoke and core programmes, in addition to international projects. 

Gill Sadler is the Head of Planning, Development and Change at the University of Hertfordshire. In 2016 she produced a report on a practice-based project funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and the Higher Education Funding Council for England Innovation and Transformation Fund: Engagement driven approach to process improvement.

Applications for Future Professional Directors are now open
Application Deadline: 
Friday 23 February 2018
Module 1: 
Wednesday 21 – Friday 23 March 2018
Webinar: 
Friday 20 April 2018
360 Day: 
Tuesday 22 May 2018
Action Learning Set 1: 
Wednesday 23 May 2018
Module 2: 
Tuesday 3 – Wednesday 4 July 2018
Action Learning Set 2: 
Thursday 6 September 2018
Challenge Group Submission Deadline: 
Friday 12 October 2018
Module 3: 
Thursday 15 – Friday 16 November 2018

The power of the decision

In her second blog post, based on her Vision Workshop at the Aurora Conference in June 2017, Maeve Lankford, Aurora Ambassador, looks at how we can commit to our vision to be more successful. Maeve’s first blog post is available here.

Once we have clarity about the life we wish to create it is essential that we commit to that vision.  We do that by making a decision that yes, this is the life I want to live and we commit to making it happen.

What happens in the absence of a decision?

In the absence of a decision, we have ongoing deliberation and hesitation.  This causes stagnation and ultimately, in my experience, can have quite a depressive effect.  We want something but we are no closer to getting it.  We wish we had the qualification or ran the marathon or achieved the weight loss, but we’ve done nothing to achieve it so we feel even worse than before we set a goal in the first place.  Now we experience both the desire for it AND the disappointment of not having done anything about it!

The power of the decision

You must make a firm decision for what it is you want in order to be able to bring your vision to fruition.  Napoleon Hill, author of the book “Think and Grow Rich” concluded after studying 25,000 men and women that highly successful people formed the habit of making decisions quickly and changing them seldom, if ever, while unsuccessful people made decisions slowly and changed them frequently.

Making the decision therefore is the next requirement for setting in motion everything you want to achieve and it completely changes the game.  While it may feel daunting, the good news is that it is actually the hardest part!  As Robyn Davidson shares:

“The two important things I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor (sic) is taking the first step, making the first decision.”

Ultimately, it’s the decisions we are willing to make that shape our lives.

Articulating the decision:

You can literally use the phrase “I have decided… “  eg.

  • I have decided to apply for the next leadership position in my Department or School…
  • I have decided to spend quality time with my family…
  • I have decided to eat more healthily and join a Walking Club…

Making such a statement has an immediately energising effect.   It takes the spotlight off what is lacking and puts it onto taking action.  This creates a positive emotional charge and you will feel both relieved and empowered by making the decision.  Try it out.  Notice how it feels to say to yourself and others “I have decided …”, it will instantly increase your confidence and motivation.

Taking action based on the decision

It is essential that you now reinforce your decision by taking regular, supportive action.  You can do this, as mentioned in the previous blog, by daily asking yourself, what step can I take today that takes me in the direction of my vision?  Then take that inspired step.  Sometimes it might be as simple as repeating the good habit you have set in place – choosing the healthy option, avoiding a particular person or conversation, working on rewriting your CV.  Occasionally it might be a bolder step, like submitting the CV for the leadership role you’ve been thinking about.  In general though you simply want to take consistent, small steps that incrementally, over time, deliver your vision.

Finding support in uncommon places

The act of making the decision and taking action to support that decision, also gives a clear signal to the universe about your intentions, enabling supportive situations and circumstances to come into your experience.  William H Murray, the Scottish mountaineer, was three times invited to participate on the Everest expeditions.  On the first two occasions, as he describes it himself, he was put off by the cost, believing he couldn’t afford it.  On the third occasion, knowing it was his last opportunity and wanting to be involved, and despite still not knowing how he’d afford it, he made the initial down payment.  He paid up, knowing he’d forfeit everything paid if he didn’t make all payments.  But that initial decision to make the first down payment changed everything.  This is how Murray explains it:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans, namely: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamt would have come their way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can or dream you can, begin it because boldness has magic and power and genius in it.’” (Emphasis added)

No new process can begin and no new path can be forged until a decision has been made. And once you make a firm decision, even in the absence of perfect conditions, a whole manner of things begin to occur and rush to your aid for its fulfilment.  So take your vision to the next level, make the decision to commit to it and start taking regular small steps to achieve it and you’re half way there already.

In the final blog of this series, we’ll discuss how to overcome the fears and doubts that inevitably arise when we start to make changes in our lives, sharing hints and tips for successfully working with them.


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.  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

Ghostbusters?

Narrative – a question of cultural identity

Doug Parkin, programme director, dives deeper into the idea of narrative leadership which is one of the four intelligences that make up the Connected Leadership model. This model articulates the core themes that underpin Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership, one of the Leadership Foundation’s most highly regarded executive programmes.

Being more efficient doesn’t sit well with who we are as an organisation.

There is a direct link between who we are and what we do.  When it comes to teams and organisations it is impossible to separate ‘being’ from ‘doing’.  And as the sadly comical line above shows, if we ask people to do something that does not fit with who they are, or perhaps more importantly how they see themselves, then there is likely to be either resistance or a loss of engagement.  This is the root and essence of cultural identity.

The cultural web

There are a number of markers of cultural identity in organisations.  A well-known model which captures these is the cultural web developed by Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes.  This illustrates and prompts us to consider “the behavioural, physical and symbolic manifestations of a culture”.  The six elements in this model, as shown below, “inform and are informed by the taken-for-granted assumptions, or paradigm, of an organisation”.  This means that they are both deliberate and accidental, conscious and unconscious, planned and unplanned, formal and informal.  A great deal of leadership energy, particularly at senior levels, goes into trying to shape and orchestrate the planned, formal and conscious side of culture, through mission statements, organisational values and things like service charters.  There are also those very deliberate, corporate stories that organisations tell: stories of pride about the players and episodes that made the organisation great; and stories of intent about the next exciting chapter in the organisation’s future.  But whilst focusing on the gloss (even veneer) of strategy and culture at this grand level, there are other things happening in the shadows, as important as they are unplanned, that may have a far greater impact on the organisation’s future direction and success.  And even those with the very best understanding of an organisation’s culture will only ever have some of these factors in plain sight.  Others will sit well below the surface of conscious attention.

In terms of their nature, some of these elements have a softer feel than others, such as symbols, routines and stories. However, stories actually pervade every aspect. There is a big difference, for example, between the lines of management drawn on an organisational chart and the stories told at water coolers regarding who holds the real influence. And it is the pervasiveness of stories that narrative leadership or narrative intelligence seeks to explore and understand. In many ways, narrative intelligence opens a window onto the shadow or ghost side of an organisation.

Exploring narrative

Exploring narrative is at once both a philosophical question and a practical one.  Philosophical because linked to identity there is a strong suggestion that stories in important ways define both who we are and what it means to be who we are (our condition):

“A man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story.” –Jean-Paul Sartre

As you might imagine, there have been arguments both for and against what has been termed narrativity. Practical because the stronger or more finely tuned our narrative intelligence, the better able we will be as leaders to work with the grain of the organisation in the initiatives or change projects we introduce. As Edgar Schein powerfully observed, “it will be easy to make changes that are congruent with present assumptions, and very difficult to make changes that are not”. Schein is the thinker, researcher and influential writer credited by some as having coined the term ‘corporate culture’.

Narrative captures and excites us. Think of that moment in a large lecture hall when the professor breaks from his notes and says, “let me tell you about a research project I worked on in Tanzania…”  It is a hook which creates a sit-forward moment. A story is about to begin and we can’t resist it. Indeed, we do not want to resist it.  We want to be drawn along the twists and turns, the highs and lows, the back and forth of the story, and we want to discover how the events unfold and the characters develop. We also want to turn to each other and nod at the meaning and significance we can together recognise and which in various ways unites us. This is a crucial part of both learning and identity.

There is also a comfort in stories. In the same way that communities and societies repeat, gradually adapt and pass down their stories, it is equally true that teams and organisations do the same. We can all think of examples of those often-repeated stories that in some strange way captured the essence of a team we once belonged to, and it is interesting to reflect on what the significant stories may be in our current teams/organisations.

Narrative and leadership

The reality of narrative is that it has a life of its own.  It is not something leaders can fully control or influence. Indeed, sometimes when they try that becomes a story in itself.  “Do you remember that time the last Dean told us a story about the faculty arriving at a crossroads in a storm,” people will say… Regarding culture more generally, it is important to realise that formal leadership is only one part of what shapes it and causes it to evolve. Another key message from Schein is that “culture is the result of a complex learning process that is only partially influenced by leadership behaviour”.

So, how do we approach narrative as leaders?  How do we work with these ghosts and shadows? Do we approach it as a battleground, as a negotiated space, or as an ongoing, evolutionary process of group discovery? Whilst it may sometimes be the leader’s role to break and re-make organisational culture where it has become toxic or dysfunctional, to be the ghostbuster, the more likely reality is that the existing narratives need to grow, develop and continue as they engage with and partly shape new change initiatives. This, then, is an attentive, nurturing and supportive role.  If change is put forward as an unbending imperative, driven from above or by external forces, then leaders may find themselves subsequently observing how powerfully narratives can erode such monoliths. Another image that has been used to describe this is “the iceberg that sinks organizational change” (Torben Rick, 2015).

Engaging with your organisation’s true stories – ghosts are worth listening to

To engage with the true stories of an organisation and really begin to appreciate both their subtlety and their emotional charge, leaders need to find opportunities to participate in the informal, shadow side of the organisation. This can’t be done from behind closed doors or through complex briefing papers. The shadow side exists in informal spaces, in everyday conversations and interactions, and is characterised by joint sensemaking and relationship building. Another way to describe it might, indeed, be the real-side of the organisation. Some leaders find this a very natural way of engaging with teams and colleagues, and for them the term ‘real’ would certainly resonate. For others, a more conscious effort may be required, at least initially. And although unstructured and often ambiguous, leaders should not be apprehensive of this shadow side and should be wary of regarding it as somehow sinister. Writing on this, William Tate interestingly suggests a balance of both disagreeable and valuable qualities, but with, perhaps, an apprehensive view overall:

“The organisation’s shadow side — the often disagreeable, messy, crazy and opaque aspects of your organisation’s personality. Such facets are not always dark and bad.  Craziness and disorder, for example, may provide a creative spur, and grapevines can be a valuable source of information. But what these features have in common is that they are always slippery — easier to feel than to define.”

As Ebenezer Scrooge eventually learned, ghosts are worth listening to (A Christmas Carol), and as leaders in organisations we fail to listen to them at our peril. We remember, of course, that there are three ghosts in this story: The Ghost of Culture Past, the Ghost of Culture Present and the Ghost of Culture Yet to Come. And these spirits have three very different personalities, all of which are worth listening to if we wish to change ourselves, our environments and our organisations for the better:

CULTURE PAST:  “These were shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

CULTURE PRESENT:  “I see a vacant seat by the poor chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner…carefully preserved.  If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, the child will die.”

CULTURE YET TO COME (SCROOGE SPEAKING):  “Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”


Doug Parkin the programme director for the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme at the Leadership Foundation. He also runs a number of bespoke and core programmes, in addition to international projects. 

The next Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership takes place in Greater London in November.

PSSL 28
Application Deadline: 10 November
Module 1: Wednesday 22 – Thursday 23 November
Module 2: Tuesday 30 – Wednesday 31 January
Location: Greater London

 

Learning to lead: Experiences from Aurora

Note from Identity, Impact and Voice written by Dr Elaine Toomey, posted to her after the end of Aurora Dublin 2017.

Dr Elaine Toomey is a post-doctoral research fellow based at National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG). She took part in Aurora in Dublin during 2016-17. Here she reflects on her experience of the programme and her key learnings from each one of the four days and her action learning set day.

Fresh into my first ever postdoc (Health Research Board Interdisciplinary Capacity Enhancement (ICE) fellowship) in August 2016, I originally saw Aurora advertised through the university mailing list. I knew that a colleague had taken part in it the previous year and had found it valuable, so in my ‘apply for everything’, new postdoc mode, I decided to pop in an application. To my surprise, I was chosen along with about 20 other wonderful women from NUIG, including academic, administrative and research staff (but only one other postdoc!), to take part in Aurora and represent our university.

Before the first workshop, the vice president for Student Experience Dr Pat Morgan, who has been an Aurora role model, hosted an informal gathering (with some wonderfully festive mince pies) for the NUIG representatives. This was a chance to meet and get to know one another before heading to Dublin in December for the first workshop entitled ‘Identity, Impact and Voice’.

Identity, Impact and Voice.

This first day gave us a sense of what to expect from the coming weeks and also to help us clarify what we wanted to take from the programme. As well as an enthralling keynote from Lynn Scarff (director of the Science Gallery Dublin), the day facilitated us to begin reflecting on our leadership styles and our own identity – who are you, who do you want to be and how can you build the leadership you would like? With these questions in my mind, the key tips I took from this day that still stay with me were:

  • The importance of being relentless in the pursuit of opportunities, but not reckless (Lynn Scarff)
  • Looking at those who inspire you and their qualities that you would like to emulate, and having them ‘on your shoulder’ to influence how you work

Power and Politics

Power and Politics focused on personal goals and how to achieve these, through discussion and debate with other Aurorans. We received another engaging keynote, this time from Professor Anne Sinnott (the executive dean of DCU Business School) who spoke to us about the importance of understanding what motivates others and how to communicate effectively. This session also introduced our Action Learning Set.

The key take-homes for me from this session were:

  • The importance of ‘authenticity’ – identifying your beliefs and values and staying true to these.
  • Developing a three minute elevator pitch to influence how other people perceive you and the importance of your work from the outset.

Action Learning Set

My action learning set was with five other women from a mixture of Irish universities. The Action Learning set chose to meet at NUIG. For this, each of us chose a specific issue or goal relevant to our own careers and development. We confidentially discussed our issues within the group, and were challenged by the group through questioning to reflect on these issues, providing different perspectives and opinions.

For me, this session was particularly valuable as it allowed me to get to know five amazing women in very different areas to me, and for my issue highlighted the value of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to develop your career.

Core Leadership Skills

This day focussed on ‘storytelling’, and being aware of the influence of bias and stereotyping in work situations. Again, there were exceptional keynotes from NUIG’s own Professor Anne Byrne (head of Political Science and Sociology), Sara Doherty (director of Eve consultation) on the power of telling your story, and how to do this well.

Key learnings from this session were in relation to improving negotiation skills using the four following tips:

  • Assess – think about whether the benefits outweigh the costs of the proposal
  • Prepare – think about what motivates the other person, and what your own interests are
  • Ask – be open and upfront, share information with the other person and engage with them
  • Package – try to demonstrate what could be achieved as a whole set of things, and think about alternative proposals

Adaptive Leadership Skills

To conclude the programme the keynote was from game designer and developer Brenda Romero, who delivered a really engaging talk to wrap up the programme. Brenda had an interesting way of looking at imposter syndrome as ‘still learning syndrome’, so recognising that you always have more to learn, not to be afraid of failure, and knowing that what matters most is what you think of yourself.

My key take-home message from this session was around taking the ‘balcony view’, i.e. the value of viewing problems from above to see inter-relationships and patterns of change, and understanding that change doesn’t have to happen in my area, but that I can still have an impact via these connected pathways.

Finally

Aurora has helped me learn a lot about myself, my future career and leadership styles. While the programme learning was definitely not gender-specific, it was lovely to take part in something aiming to improve the impact of women in higher education. A consistent highlight of the programme for me was the keynotes from five amazing, successful and inspiring women. In particular, aside from anything gender-specific, I learned a lot from these women about good communication styles and the value of engaging your audience and stakeholders fully, which I want to continue to work on.

Another massive benefit of the programme has been the mentor it provided me with, who has been invaluable to date in terms of guidance and advice.

At the start of the programme, despite being selected, I didn’t really think I was a leader – that I was too junior, too early on in my career for the programme. However, by the end of it I learned that it’s never too soon to start learning how to lead well, and that everyone can display leadership – working within a team on a project, supervising students, or even through peer mentorship. It has helped me develop connections in institutions all over Ireland, and really importantly for someone new to NUIG, has introduced me to a great bunch of women and it’s great to be able to recognise more people across the campus. I also recently received an unusual letter from someone with identical handwriting to my own – until I opened it I had forgotten that during Identity, Impact and Voice we were asked to write our future selves a note about key things to remember, which would be posted to us at the end of the programme. Embarrassingly, I’ll post it here J It’s nice to know that past Elaine is in my corner!

This is an edited version of a post originally published on the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) Health Psychology blog on 17 August 2017. The original version is available here.

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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

8 ways to be a better role model

As bookings for role models are now open we asked our Aurora facilitation team: Vijaya Nath, Phyllida Hancock, Rosemary Stamp, Rebecca Nestor, Jenny Garrett and Maeve Lankford how to be a good role model. Based on their experience of facilitating Aurora these insights will help you make the most of your experience and be the best role model you can be.

“Role models make a unique and integral contribution to the Aurora programme. The majority of LFHE’s role models are Aurora alumnae or senior women from higher education institutions and related bodies who are committed to enabling women in HEIs achieve their potential and gain maximum benefit from participating in Aurora. The time that role models are willing to volunteer demonstrates their commitment to addressing the under-representation of women in leadership positions in higher education. This volunteerism is itself an act of leadership.” –Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development and course director.

1. Provide a safe space for (sometimes) challenging conversations

“Imagine you’re hosting a meal with friends. You want people to talk to each other and have a good time”- Rebecca Nestor

Enjoyment is a key element of Aurora so make sure that everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinion. If someone doesn’t engage in one activity, encourage them to engage in the next. Or when the facilitators ask for feedback encourage each member of the table to speak up at one point. Do not feel afraid to ask participants from your institution or who you know to go to another table as it will enable them to meet new role models, and provide them with a safe space to speak without fear of judgement. During Power and Politics (Day 2) tables will be pre-allocated for role models and participants.

2. Ensure all opinions are valued

“Make sure all opinions are respected”- Rosemary Stamp

Last year there were over one thousand Aurora participants from both academic and professional services backgrounds so it is no surprise that opinions vary. Try to facilitate so that no one person, or opinion dominates. As future leaders Aurorans will be faced with numerous perspectives in their professional lives, some they may not agree with, that will have to be managed with diplomacy.

3. Listen carefully

All of our facilitators agree that being a good listener is a vital trait in a role model, encouraging conversations with questions rather than dominating them. This will help you ensure everyone is heard, that people on your table are encouraged to speak up and that you are able to pick up on any areas where you can help aid the learning of the table.

4. Share your own experiences and knowledge

“Feel open to sharing any relevant experience or advice that others at the table might not have- it is very much an added bonus” – Phyllida Hancock

Even if you have only very recently completed Aurora yourself, everyone’s experiences professionally are different. Think back to your own time at Aurora, you may have seen a different speaker who had a particularly relevant message or be able to draw on learnings from days that happen later in the programme to stimulate the discussion.

5. Take the opportunity to learn

“Use this opportunity to practice all the skills you learnt during the programme and step out of your comfort zone”- Jenny Garrett.

If you are not an Aurora alumnae then still take the opportunity to learn. The guest speakers throughout the programme bring valuable insights from both within and outside of the sector.

6. Read through the tasks

“The best role models have read the role model guidance” – Maeve Lankford

4-5 weeks prior to each event the Aurora team will send out joining instructions which will include insights into the tasks you can expect on the day, set out by each facilitator. This preparation enables you to think about the tasks, feel confident in the task, and start to think of ways your own experiences and learning can help enhance the learning of the participants on your table.

“The tasks vary depending on the session, for Identity, Impact and Voice it’s really about reassurance and helping participants feel at ease but during the later sessions it is increasingly important to help participants stick to the task”- Rebecca Nestor

Be prepared that every day is different so the task changes each time. It is therefore essential to read through the tasks prior to each event. 

7. Be confident

“Remember that we only need to be one step ahead of another person to be able to give them some support and encouragement.  We are not experts”- Maeve Lankford

Know that you have knowledge and experience that will be useful to the Aurora participants and take comfort in having examples and pre-work sent to you before the event. You don’t need to have all the answers, just encourage and facilitate the discussions and learning.

8. Enjoy the day

“Most importantly, enjoy helping others learn. We’re so grateful to our role models for giving their time, energy and wisdom and hope that they enjoy the days as much as the participants.” – Phyllida Hancock

If you are considering being an Aurora role model and have a question, please do get in touch.


The Facilitation Team

Vijaya Nath is the Director of Leadership Development at Leadership Foundation and Aurora course director. She leads a team who work on Leadership Development and related interventions and projects.

Phyllida Hancock has a background as an actress and singer who now runs training and development programmes specialising in leadership, team building and creativity. She is the facilitator of Identity, Impact and Voice

Rosemary Stamp specialises in strategic management, leadership, stakeholder engagement and competitive strategy as both an academic and a consultant. She is the facilitator of Power and Politics and programme director of the Top Management Programme.

Rebecca Nestor has worked in higher education since 1992, and was both head of equality and head of staff development at the University of Oxford. Since 2010 she has been the director of her own consultancy. Rebecca is the facilitator of Core Leadership Skills and a programme director for Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership.

Jenny Garrett is an executive coach and trainer, author of Rocking Your Role, speaker, mentor, and consultant with a passion for empowering female breadwinners. Jenny is the facilitator of Adaptive Leadership Skills.

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.


Bookings for Aurora role models are now open.

The Aurora programme dates for 2017-18 are open for booking

 

5 thoughts on Powerbrokers by Dr David Llewellyn

Harper Adams University and DL

Dr David Llewellyn, vice-chancellor, Harper Adams University answers 5 questions on his experiences of the Leadership Foundation’s unique development programme; ‘Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster experience’.

What attracted you to Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster experience?

I hoped that I could learn a little more about how to connect with and influence politicians and Government officials on issues of importance to my institution’s subject base.

When you returned to your office after completing the programme, did you do anything differently?

I made a particular effort to follow up with key people in several Government departments and, after the General Election, I was in a position to put into effect some of the lessons learned on the programme when contacting new Ministers.

If you could tell one person something about the programme, what would it be?

The role playing exercise on the second day is hectic, but good fun.  It gives a glimpse of the wide variety of issues facing Ministerial teams and, hence, why your priorities might not always be theirs!

How would you compare this programme to other development programmes that you have taken part in?

I enjoyed the pace of this programme, as well as the opportunity to talk to politicians about their role and the issues we are all having to address in higher education.

Is there anything else that you would like to say about Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster experience?

It was good to have a programme in which there was time to think about the way in which senior higher education staff can help promote the work of their institution within Government. This was not really a feature of the earlier version of the Top Management Programme that I had attended, so it provided a different dimension to leadership development within the sector.

Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster experience will be taking place on Wednesday 13 – Thursday 14 December 2017 in London. To find out more and book your place, please click here.

Dr David Llewellyn is Vice-Chancellor of Harper Adams University. David held positions at Queen Mary, University of London, King’s College London and the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital, London before moving to Harper Adams in 1998 as Director of Corporate Affairs. David took over as the head of institution at Harper Adams in September 2009.

David is an alumnus of the Leadership Foundation’s Top Management Programme.

Reflections from Leadership Matters: supporting senior women in higher education

Rachael Ross is the course director of Leadership Matters, the Leadership Foundation programme for senior women in higher education. Two years on from its inception, Rachael reflects on why the programme is needed and how it was developed.

Why Leadership Matters?

Just 18%  – or 36 – of the top 200 universities in the world have a female leader, according to the latest THE 2016-17 world university rankings, and men still overwhelmingly dominate the top leadership roles in 166 higher education institutions across the UK (Women Count: Leaders in Education 2016).

Higher education leaders work in a world where rapid cultural change is the norm rather than the exception. Understanding how our institutions are financed and governed, combined with the political savviness needed to navigate them, is essential, and the wider economic and social waves of change require a firmly grounded leadership purpose and resilience.

Women leaders have a huge amount to bring to the higher education sector and fully releasing that potential is, I believe, essential to the long-term health and sustainability of the sector.  But research shows that gender bias in organisations continues to “disrupt the learning cycle at the heart of becoming a leader”. (Harvard Business Review)

In the development process of Leadership Matters we listened to feedback from leaders across the sector, from our alumni and from the Aurora community. Crucially, the course had to be a safe space where women leaders could develop their own unique authentic leadership and navigate the cultural challenges they face.

As course director of Leadership Matters, the programme created two years ago to meet that need, I feel it is timely to take stock and share some thoughts about my approach and what I believe makes Leadership Matters so suited to senior women leaders.

Clear direction

Leadership Matters is a five-day programme that addresses both technical and personal leadership aims. Participants have a clear goal from the beginning, with each day serving a defined purpose. For example, day one demystifies the financial frameworks of higher education while day two focuses on governance and legal requirements. There is then an action learning set day for women to reflect on their learnings so far in a small peer group. Day four then tackles the cultural and political challenges that all leaders face, working to build participants’ confidence to navigate these in the context of a higher education institution. Finally, on day five, the focus is on participants identifying their true purpose as a leader, and confirming their own leadership identity and “narrative” or story.

As a whole, the programme provides a mix of technical and development skills, ensuring that participants leave feeling more confident in their own leadership, prepared to navigate their organisations’ culture, and equipped with real insights into their organisations’ financial and governance system.

A network of female leaders for continued learning

The programme supports learning groups that live powerfully, well beyond the limits of the programme itself, providing women with continued support as they work towards reaching the highest executive levels. At the heart of this are the Leadership Matters action learning sets, which provide women with the opportunity to build strong ties with a network of peers.

Learning from the experts

I’m proud to have brought together a multidisciplinary team of facilitators and speakers to work on Leadership Matters. Each is an expert in her own field, with deep experience in the academic world, and we all share an ambition to truly equip delegates for senior leadership.

  • Gill Ball OBE, former director of finance at the University of Birmingham
  • Christine Abbott, former university secretary & director of Operations at Birmingham City University
  • Sally Cray, an experienced Leadership and Organisational Development Specialist.

You can read more about myself and my fellow 3 facilitators here.

A personal learning environment

As the programme is designed for senior leaders who are striving to reach the very top tier of higher education, the cohort sizes reflect this. While the Aurora programme now attracts up to 250 women per cohort, Leadership Matters is designed to provide participants with a much more intimate training in cohorts of around 20 women.

Active, sustainable learning

Our job as facilitators is to find a balance between introducing some key concepts and models, allowing time to reflect, and encouraging delegates to experiment by applying the learning to their own personal and organisation context, which makes the learning sustainable well beyond the five days of the programme itself. As a result, Leadership Matters draws particularly on Kolb’s Learning Cycle, which emphasises an active learning style in which we learn from our experiences of life, and reflection is an integral part of such learning.

Leadership matters – now more than ever

“As a result of attending the programme I understand my own impact better and the action learning sets I’ve attended with other members have continued on past the programme itself, and have been invaluable.”  – Kirsteen Coupar, director of student support and employment at London Southbank University

I believe that Leadership Matters has shown itself to be an essential programme – for both women leaders and for the higher education sector as a whole. It is critical that the sector draws on all the talent and potential within its realm, to nurture and develop leaders with the vision and confidence to guide higher education through the turbulent economic and social change it is facing. Leadership Matters is helping to meet this urgent need, supporting women to strive for the highest possible levels of leadership so that they can play their part in steering their institutions to greater success.


Rachael Ross has a background in industrial relations and change management in the energy sector. She is now a leadership and diversity consultant and coach for senior leaders across all sectors. She is the course director for Leadership Matters.

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