Deep fault lines on the Future Leaders Scheme (FLS)

Experiencing emotions on uneven ground

Nour Sidawi
Future Leaders Scheme
4 min readOct 29, 2022


Image of a red hot air balloon against a backdrop of a clear blue sky peppered with clouds. In the foreground are trees in a park with people watching the balloon floating away.

“Future Leaders Scheme is building a diverse, robust pipeline to senior roles. You’re part of the high potential, talented civil servants who can get there.”

The Future Leaders Scheme (FLS) is one of the UK Civil Service’s Accelerated Development Schemes, aimed at high-potential grade 6 and 7 civil servants. You can read my reflections on the scheme here:

Hello dear reader,

I’m not ready to write about the third module of the Future Leaders Scheme yet. I watched it unfold in ways that I’m still processing. It was a fraught adventure involving camels, lemons, and an escape room. But more on that next time.

I’m going to write about letting chinks of daylight into this “inner sanctum” instead.

So, here goes.

Gif of a white man wearing a formal suit and tie on a dark night, with a flashing blue light reflecting on him. Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) who plays an FBI agent in the science fiction-supernatural television series The X-Files is saying, “Believe me, you can’t unsee that.”

The story I will tell, about what it’s like on the scheme, is mine and mine alone.

I’m feeling somewhat out of sorts. The scheme was supposed to be the opportunity of a career: learning, the space and resources of an expert organisation, and a close-knit community all in one perfect package. That has always been the promise behind glossy brochures — the opportunity to find and craft our best selves.

Somewhere along the way, I realised that I was slipping. Parts of my experience on the scheme that I thought I had figured out felt like they were slipping. Like a lot of feelings, it manifested as a blob of amorphous unease. Everything was fine, but less so.

I find myself questioning why I’ve played the game of the Future Leaders Scheme so diligently. I think I lived with the realities of it because it made the rest of my experience feel manageable. But my time on it did not have to be that way.

I have struggled to connect, to find my place, to navigate this world I find myself in. The never-ending isolation of being brought into a space without anyone considering how I would fit. Now it’s just me swimming against the familiar tide of conformity, not realising how far the status quo had pulled me from the shores of disruption.

Gif of a woman wearing a white shirt sat down speaking to an unidentified man. Jane Tennant (played by Vanessa Lachey) who plays the first female Special Agent-in-Charge in the TV series ‘NCIS: Hawaiʻi’ is saying, “People shouldn’t have to pretend to be someone they’re not.”

As my time on the scheme draws to close, I’m forced to sit with my own story of how things are going. Maybe I’ve been kidding myself for weeks, for months. It is so much to process — part of it is ambiguous grief, part of it is slow-motion trauma, and part of it is enduring exhaustion.

Writing and the scheme have become intertwined for me. Maybe it’s because I don’t know what to do with myself here, so I write instead. I document most things that happen — partly because I’m afraid of forgetting things. At the same time, there’s so much from my time here that I wish I could forget, but never will.

I have tried to articulate the corners of my unease through my blog posts. It has been a way for me to take all my tangled feelings and jumbled thoughts and make some sense of them. I wanted to share publicly because this is such a lonely experience, and because feelings are lonely, asking if others are familiar with the same sort of slipperiness.

Gif of a white mean wearing a navy blue formal suit and tie, with a white shirt. He is a company representative who has to speak to the United States Senate regarding a scandal. Gregory Hirsch (played by Nicholas Braun) who plays the Executive Assistant in the TV series ‘Succession’ is mumbling, “If it is to be said. So it be. So it is.”

It feels rebellious to share. I’m at my bravest and boldest when I press ‘publish.’ If I really thought about how many people were reading my words (and some of the real and perceived consequences), I think I’d struggle with more imposter syndrome baggage (than I already carry) and major writer’s block.

Even though many thousands of people have experienced the scheme, it is rarely openly spoken about. As I began to share my experiences, I have heard more and more from people who said they felt less alone in their struggles — either applying for the scheme, attending it, being in the aftermath of it, or in their daily work lives. Hearing other people’s stories, having people trust me with their innermost thoughts…now that’s a real privilege.

Reading lovely messages over the past year has made this experience bearable. I’m glad I put something on here, I wasn’t sure if I should. Knowing that my writing will reduce even a little bit of the obscurity out there around the Future Leaders Scheme makes it all worth it.

Gif of a David Paster (played by Sugith Varughese) who was briefly the Acting Secretary-General of the United Nations until his cabinet voted him out in the TV series ‘The Expanse’ is saying, “These are time that will try our souls.”

If not us, who? And if not now, when?

These are only parts of my experience. To speak is still a bold act and I’m reminded just how important working in the open is. I wonder when someone will warn me that writing about the scheme in this way will interfere with my professional career. What will happen if I have to choose between the two?

I think the best way to feel comfortable doing the scheme is to remember (or discover) your community. They’re a constant reminder of how to use the muscle of care — replenishing stores of energy, patience, and grace. It can be a very real antidote, I think, when oscillating between demoralisation at the intractability of public service and delight at its possibilities.



Nour Sidawi
Future Leaders Scheme

Mastering the art of disruption in procurement, leadership, and change @MoJGoVUK. Reimagining the future of multifarious possibilities with @OneTeamGov 🌍