Blog: The academic element starts for Future Leaders 2022

The morning after the day before, on the journey back across the Pennines, I had a slight but irritating pain in my neck.

The sleep in an unfamiliar hotel bed would have been the obvious culprit. But on this occasion, there was a far more positive reason.

Meeting for the second time in person, the Future Leaders 2022 cohort gathered in Leeds for the start of the academic element of the programme with the University of Huddersfield’s Prof Paul Willis.

Through the application process and speaking to FL alumni, this element came with a strong reputation for being a significantly worthwhile aspect of the course.

Thankfully, driving home from Leeds in the sunshine (LGcomms even arranged some nice weather) it was easy to conclude that it had lived up to its billing. Even if it was the reason for the (slightly) sore neck.

Throughout the back-to-back sessions I realised I had been sub-consciously nodding along to Paul’s content with a mixture of agreement and self-realisation.

A full day of nodding. Start of the day, sat upright at the desk, nodding. End of the day, chin resting on palm, still nodding.

The session shone a critical light on how we view effective leadership, the elements that we felt strong and confident with in our day-to-day roles and the qualities and skills that we need to hone as our careers develop.

As with the introductory session in London, it was reassuring to hear from colleagues that their experiences were similar across the range of organisations and locations in this cohort.

We were able to explore how we will face challenges to implement the development points that Paul introduced and then encouraged us to apply to our individual situations.

Personally, I was able to reflect during one of the discussions on how my approach to leadership has evolved through the unique challenges of recent times.

That came with a sense of achievement on the one hand but also the stark realisation that I have many areas to work on – and not necessarily the areas that I thought I needed to work on when I stepped foot in that room.

It wasn’t as if there was a ‘wow’ moment, it was just fascinating to absorb from Paul the theory behind effective approaches to leadership and discuss strategies to help us maximise our potential.

Perhaps most importantly, the session left me feeling energised, served as a reminder about why we’re passionate about our roles within local government and made me think I can’t wait for the next session.

So, I apologise to my fellow FL colleagues who may have been distracted by me nodding along throughout the day like the dog from the Churchill adverts.

But I found the day hugely thought-provoking and insightful. Driving back to the North West, I had a head full of ideas along with that crick in my neck.

James Illingworth is Media Manager at Wigan Council, and a member of the Future Leaders 2022 Cohort.


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