In a bid to harness the talents and to address under representation of women in leadership positions, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine embarked on a year-long leadership development programme with Action Learning Associates.
Sonja Antell (Director of ALA) and I met with Margaret Bentley, Head of Talent & Educational Development at the School and devised a programme that would introduce key leadership themes for women and one that would be effective in helping address barriers and aspirations at an individual level.
The programme had two main components;
- a workshop based facilitated discussion whereby participants explored a range of leadership and professional issues
- the purpose of resolving these issues to improve higher education and their experience of working in the School.
Themes ranged from productivity and negotiation skills to Power, Presence and Courageous Communication. The latter workshop was fun and challenging as participants practiced ways of having those difficult conversations with one other.
Action for change
The second aspect of the programme involved participation in action learning sets. Here participants spoke personally about their roles, projects and next career steps among other things, and undertook concrete actions to make changes in their professional lives.
Having discussed broader themes applicable to professional women generally and in higher education in the morning session, the afternoon action learning sets were very strongly focused on change.
During discussions, participants had already identified their personal barriers and opportunities and so were ready to decide what actions they needed to take that would make a real difference in their situation.
On reflection, this programme was focused on applied leadership; exploring the opportunity to understand themes in depth along with research. We were also able to focus on individuals’ actual experiences with a group committed to each other over a fixed period of time.
The original cohort was a mix of support and academic staff. It’s rare for support and academic staff to mix in professional development contexts and there was certainly value in doing so. This brought a breadth of experience and expertise to the set which helped enrich conversations and questions to really move thinking, perceptions or behaviour on.
Evaluating the outcome of an action learning programme is always a fascinating and rewarding process. It’s when results are explored, and actions start to take shape. Some of the outcomes are felt at an individual level, which then bring benefits to the organisation as a whole. Achievements noted by our cohort included:
- An increase in their ability to negotiate with colleagues and senior leaders.
- Greater clarity regarding their next professional steps both in terms of job roles and projects.
- Greater understanding of the tools they needed to achieve better work life balance.
- Identifying simple methods to increase productivity so that reports, proposals and grant applications were more easily completed.
- More insight into the best way to have courageous or difficult conversations and manage staff.
- Feeling more empowered to see things more clearly, through listening and learning how to understand people better.
- Confidence to identify barriers to progress and how to deal with them.
The programme has proved successful on many levels and is now in its second year. It now includes colleagues from the Institute of Cancer Research.