A Q&A where graduates share their experiences of Leadership Academy training. What has it added to their life, both personally and professionally?
Senior Policy Officer, Cyber Co-ordination in the Welsh Government
Which Leadership academy programme did you join?
Top Talent (Cardiff 2020)
Empowering Women (Cardiff 2021)
What were your initial thoughts about participating?
For Top Talent Cardiff I was excited about participating. But in the lead up to the first day, I remember thinking I wasn’t sure I should be on the programme. That I wasn’t really in a technical role so it might not be relevant to me (good old imposter syndrome!).
For Empowering Women, it felt like a real opportunity for women in digital, data and technology across Welsh Government to come together. I was excited to be part of it.
What were your first impressions?
For both programmes, everyone was really friendly and welcoming of everyone else in the group. The tutors were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and helped us to settle in and stay engaged. Particularly impressive on the Empowering Women which was delivered virtually but we all felt engaged and enthused throughout.
What were the most powerful elements of the programme for you?
- By being on the programme you’re making time and space for your own development. To reflect on what type of leader you want to be.
We covered a lot of interesting theories during the training and we were encouraged to self-reflect and develop our self-awareness. Normally, we’re all busy and getting on with doing the job so we don’t have time to really think about these things. For me, this time to focus was really powerful and led to making some changes in the way I worked.
- Having a mixed cohort, with people from various different roles and parts of the public sector, was really valuable.
It gave us a ready made network for the future. But most of all it was useful to hear from other people on the course; their experience, things they struggled with and realising that we were all having similar problems. We could learn from each others approaches.
- The coaching was extremely powerful for my own personal development in helping me focus, realise what I needed. It led to making some decisions about my career and having clear actions to make it happen.
After graduation, what were the key things you took away with you?
During both the programmes there were a number of lightbulb moments of things for me to take away and implement.
- The key lightbulb moment during Top Talent
I realised that when I thought I was being “helpful” and offering advice to my team and colleagues, that I wasn’t really helping them to develop and explore their own ideas and ways of doing things. By nature, I’m a people pleaser and am eager to help. What I’d increasingly found was, I’d end up with a queue of people at my desk looking for help. By the time I’d helped them all I hadn’t got round to doing any of my own work.
Through the discussions, I realised that by “helping” and giving my team advice and answers each time, I wasn’t encouraging them to think or work it out for themselves. I’d taught them to come to me and I’d tell them how to do it. This was not the type of leader I thought I was, or wanted to be. I decided that if I truly wanted to empower and develop my team, I needed to adopt more of a coaching style.
- The key moment during Empowering Women
It was thinking about how my work aligned to my values and how this was effecting my own motivation and performance.
By having the space to reflect on this I became more self-aware and was able to recognise some stress I had been feeling. Without being given the time to reflect on the situation, it’s unlikely I would have recognised the stress and been able to act to prevent it getting worse.
Since the programmes, I have had the confidence and skills to further my career in different ways – I gained a promotion, chaired the President’s Conference and have now moved to a new role in cyber. They’ve given me the confidence to try different things, to know that I have the skills and knowledge to be able to succeed even if it’s scary.
How did you apply these professionally and what are the direct benefits?
The great thing about both programmes is that a few weeks after the training there’s a coaching session. So, having had time to really reflect on the key things you took away from the programme, you’re then able to discuss them with a coach and come up with meaningful actions.
- From Top Talent: I focused on developing more of a coaching style. During the coaching session we discussed some of my ‘helpful’ habits and I came up with a plan for how I was going to change this, starting with some small steps which could then be added to as I became more confident. As with any habit, it takes time to break. I’m still on that path to make that change but I have already seen improvements.
- From Empowering Women the focus was more on my own self-awareness. And reflecting on some realisations I’d had during the programme. The coaching session gave me the space to talk about these openly and explore some actions that I could take. This led to more constructive conversations with my manager, which enabled changes that reduced the stress I had been feeling.
These are only two examples. There are a number of theories that were covered and group discussions where we shared our experiences which I’ve used in my professional and personal life.
A personal perspective
One particular example is the circle of influence and concern. This became really useful during the pandemic, to keep my mind focused on the things I could influence rather than worrying about things outside of my control.
I was getting increasingly stressed and frustrated during the first lockdown. In particular by the number of people on social media posting pictures where they weren’t following the rules. One day I came across my Top Talent workbook and the paper where I’d drawn the circle of influence and concern. I decided to draw out my current circle of influence. By doing that, I recognised that I had no influence over how others interpreted or followed the rules. What I could control was how I personally followed the rules.
Drawing out the circle reduced my frustration around that particular situation. But it also gave me a different perspective on my areas of concern and reduced some of the stress I had more generally about the pandemic. I made a point from then on to focus on the things I could control.
What would you say to anyone thinking about joining the programme you enjoyed?
I would strongly recommend joining either Top Talent or Empowering Women. Both programmes have been interesting, engaging and have helped me to develop my skills and further my career. The support offered by the tutors and the cohort is great. And you build a support network that you can continue to call upon beyond the programme. It’s ok to make yourself and your development a priority and to take the time and space for that development by joining programmes like these.