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Future Leaders: What can you learn from the successful applications?

We’ve just about drawn breath after another hectic couple of weeks – switching between the return of schools (via the Government Roadmap) and finalising this year’s Future Leader’s cohort.

It’s been a real privilege to have been part of the process but for me, not one for academic excellence at school, it is all about the three E’s. Firstly, I’m really excited about the overall standard of communications professionals in local government – with the future being scarily bright for our sector. It was an absolute pleasure to read and then interview some of the most talented people in council communications – with many of us judges making side notes for useful ideas to take back to our home authorities.

Personally, I’m exhausted by the comprehensive and rigorous process we’ve just gone through. Collectively, we reviewed 70 applications (one of our highest ever numbers) and the calibre of the applications was impressively high. From all applications received, we interviewed 45 good candidates as rated on the programme success criteria, from which we had to whittle down to 12 exceptional Future Leaders. We’ve used standardized templates for both parts of the process, as well as robust moderation meetings.

My final watchword was enthusiasm. From the candidates themselves, there was a real desire to not just learn but also to be a part of a wider network. Many of those successful applicants, showed their true ‘JFK’ colours – thinking not just about they could get out of Future Leaders for themselves, but what they could gain from Future Leaders to use within either their own organisation or for the sector in general.

It was this that was possibly the first key attribute that marked out the ‘exceptional’ candidate from the ‘very good’. But what else can we learn from the application process?

The clue really is in the title

Future Leaders is predominantly a leadership programme aimed at developing wannabe Heads of Communications or aspiring leaders of the future. Although it will equip existing managers with broader skills and strategic understanding of communications, it is not looking for technical or specialist skills (eg press/digital etc). In this regard, LGcomms Academy event or the PRCA PR Diploma might be a better fit.

Do more than just the basics

As anyone who has been to an interview underprepared, it can be a difficult place to be. Simple questions open like ‘why do you want the job’ or ‘tell us what you know about the organisation’ can suddenly feel like bear traps. Equally so for Future Leaders, those who did their research – either from the website, attending our webinar or speaking to previous alumni – often did much better than those who didn’t.

Even better, was where applicants could also demonstrate this understanding and apply their own opinions on what they liked best about the programme (eg peer-to-peer networking); or even what they feel that they would contribute to the Future Leaders group.

If at first you don’t succeed…

It is really pleasing to see at least one previously unsuccessful applicant, coming up trumps this year and making it onto the final 12. Equally, it was great to hear how they had listened and taken on board the feedback, and improved their own experience.

For that reason, as well as offering feedback to all candidates who made it to interview stage, this year for the first time, we are adding in a new layer to the programme and piloting a training and development opportunity with a wider cohort. Specifically, we are offering a mentoring programme by a former Future Leader who has completed the programme within the past few years.

And finally

Just wanted to repeat my thanks to all the high calibre applications this year – it really was a very high standard of competition – and just reaffirms how well the Future Leaders scheme is thought of. I also wanted to personally thank Danni Clayton, Vice-chair of LGcomms, for co-ordinating the many applications along with Vin Kaur at the PRCA, and also the many members of the LGcomms Executive Committee who have contributed to this process.

Until next year….!

Andrew Hadfield is Head of Communications at Hertfordshire County Council and an LGcomms Executive Committee Member

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