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Exploring future leadership discovery workshop: what did we learn?

The third blog post on the subject of exploring future leadership.

Dr. Clare Price-Dowd’s talk on “Leadership…for what?”

We’re writing this post to share:

  • Our findings from the research we undertook on leadership development schemes (knowledge, skills, behaviours, attitudes). You can find the outputs of the research here.
  • The outputs from the discovery workshop we ran on 1 March;
  • What we are going to do with the outputs.

Who was in the room?

Outputs from the day

“Leadership for what?”

1. Characteristics of future leadership

“Characteristics of a good leader”
  • Challenges, and is accepting and unafraid of challenge
  • Leads by example, from the bottom up and creates a culture that trusts people to do that
  • Enabler, connecting people and teams, and helping make good things happen
  • Active listener
  • Empathetic
  • Curious
  • Inclusive
  • Honest
  • Moral courage
  • Helps people improve things and themselves, teaching them to be more aware of the impact of the things they do and say
  • Human — self-aware, and emotionally intelligent
  • Accountable
  • Trusting, allows others to do the job, try things and fail fast
  • Creates a safe environment
  • Empowering
  • Approachable, and willing to put themselves out there
  • Compassionate
  • Integrity
  • Engaging

2. What does good leadership look like? How does a good leader make you feel?

  • allows people to help improve things and themselves by allowing them to ‘fail fast’.
  • is led from the bottom up with a culture that trusts people to do that.
  • teaches people to be aware of the impact of the things they do and say.
  • appoints the right people for the right time.
  • has mutual empathy; a recognition that people are human beings that are flawed.

3. What does distributed leadership look like?

  • Leadership at all levels: led and being led at all times, as well as being shared.
  • Giving space for people within their roles to act as leaders.
  • The ability to empower yourself to act as a leader using judgement, experience and management of risks.
  • Creating the atmosphere for people to create something different and input into a stream.
  • A snowball effect for the wider good. The first person has to take the step; this requires trust.
  • The space to use powers and freedoms, and make systems work. It is helping make structures under different circumstances work. There are freedoms and power at certain levels to do this.
  • The flow of information to enable leadership to function properly.
  • Clarity of boundaries, freedoms and intentions.
  • Vision for what the room needed to be like and executed as you see fit. Held to account on quality.
  • Consideration of personal role and what it means to operate in a system of distributed leadership and enable leadership to be shared.

4. What do you want to get out of this? What does it mean for you?

Lean Coffee topics proposed for discussion
  • People don’t need to be on a leadership scheme to be successful. It is only one way of being recognised.
  • Schemes can be a catalyst, giving people the space need to develop and get to where they want to go.
  • Engaging across different departments is a positive thing.
  • Separate succession planning, pipeline development and talent management, which is exclusive from leadership development, and is inclusive. There are overlaps, it is confusing to have them part of the same objectives and outcomes.
  • It was questioned whether interviews were the best way to test for leadership given diversity of the nation. How would you do it in a way that was not in your own image?
  • Diverse thinking and abilities bring different things to be table to be able to run a system that works for the entire country. There is a duty of care to put people on development programmes based on diversity that are not connected to talent pipelines.
  • People work in teams. There should be a focus should investment in people who work in teams, display non-heroic leadership and a reflective approach.
  • Leaders can’t exist without other people. A more organic approach to leadership development that enables people to deliver, and acknowledges the incomplete leader.
  • Good leaders can straddle the two powers, new and old.
  • There’s a lag time between change which can cause tension.
  • There is the perception in the Civil Service that external experience is not valued within individual departments.
  • There is the recognition that we need to change and use success profiles help to help this.
  • The Civil Service has become much more embracing of external experiences and diversity of thought. How do we do socialisation better? How do we ensure people encounter the value and vision?
  • Being the outlier is a good thing; being the person who takes the power to ask these things is a good thing to do.
  • Gather insight about what people need.
  • Feedback goes into a ‘black hole’; no belief that feedback gets used.
  • Some people don’t have access to certain learning and materials because of systems — e.g. NHS colleagues who can’t access Civil Service Learning. This means that people start from different places. Why can’t these materials be shared more widely to benefit all?
  • Have the awareness that different departments prepare their people differently — e.g. through coaching. There needs to be consistency and fairness in the whole process.
  • Tailor the interview to the conversation you’re having with the person; the interview should be about values, potential, aspirations and the person themselves. Should we train our interviewers better to achieve this?
  • Think of these programmes as services and get user feedback to improve iteratively. We should be more user centred and agile.
  • We should be smarter about triaging those not already on Permanent Secretary pathway, to which schemes can add the most value. People are talent and need nurturing to be in the ‘top’ groups.
  • You shouldn’t need to have an individual that benefits from a leadership development scheme experience at every single level. Are there ‘serial course/development scheme goers’? If they’re not there for knowledge, but for the ‘badge’, is there something contextual?
  • The aspiration is that the UK Civil Service Leadership Academy is for everybody, not just Senior Civil Service.

What can we/all of us do to help to take this forward? What next?

Tweet from Emma on Leadership (Department for Education)

Further reading



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Nour Sidawi

Nour Sidawi


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