So, what is a Future Leader?

I applied for Future Leaders at the last minute.

This probably won’t surprise people who know me – I apply for most things at the last minute. I love the thrill of an impending deadline.  I submitted it from a café down the road from my Grandma’s old house, which I was staying in whist visiting family for Christmas. The house has no wifi, and my dog (a lockdown puppy) was having a meltdown about being in a strange place at the time so I could only be out of the house for a short time to get it in. It was a bit stressful if I’m honest, and it’s a miracle I managed to submit something that got me to the interview stage – but I digress…

The reason I applied at the last minute is because I spent a lot of time trying to decide if I was a ‘Future Leader’.  It’s a fairly daunting title, and at the time I applied I hadn’t even officially taken up post as Digital Communications Officer with Shetland Islands Council. We’re a small island based local authority, with an even smaller comms team. There is (currently!) no head of comms position for me to aspire to reach, and as someone very new to local government communication, it felt like a little bit of a leap.

The voice of my imposter syndrome was quite loud, and it took quite a bit of reasoning with myself to quiet it. Luckily I have a very supportive boss, who fully believed in me even where I doubted myself, and encouraged me to have a go and see what happened.  I can honestly say that it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made in a very long time.

Future Leaders is a wonderful mixture of workshops, theoretical and practical learning, professional mentoring, peer to peer support and self reflection – with a bit of group therapy thrown in for good measure.   It’s hard to pick out a favourite session – each element has given me new insight and enthusiasm for the work we do as comms professionals, and has left me buzzing about the potential for making improvements and doing new things on my return home.  Personal highlights so far have been sessions on developing your leadership style, an eye-opening day on working with elected members, and inspiring workshop focussing on branding with the creative team from Mfour at Manchester City Council – and that’s before we’ve finished this round of the programme.

Some of my key take-aways from the programme so far have been:

  • I’ve gained invaluable insight into the workings of other organisations and their comms teams, and had the opportunity to talk openly and honestly with those at the top of our profession about what it takes to be successful in the field.
  • It’s given me space to really think about my career goals, and has provided me with greater clarity on what steps I need to take to achieve my future ambition.
  • I’ve developed greater self-awareness of my leadership and communications style, my motivations, my strengths and my areas for development.  (I’ve also booked some sessions to work with someone on my unhealthy relationship with deadlines. See? That’s growth.)
  • My confidence in my own abilities and instincts has grown, which has helped me implementing changes in my own organisation.

Most importantly though, I’ve gained a network of the most lovely, supportive and ridiculously talented people, whom I fully intend to keep in touch with after our time on the programme has ended.  The face-to-face networking has been wonderful.  Living on a small island in the middle of the north sea can make attending CPD events a little challenging, and my cohort has had to put up with my endless excitement about being ‘south’ (the ‘I’m on the runway about to catch the plane’ photo has become a regular feature in our group chat).  Being part of this programme has enabled me to carve out time just to focus on my own personal development, make those essential connections, and grow my understanding of our sector.

I feel confident and proud in saying that I am a future leader now, and I know that this programme has given me the boost I need to progress my career, even if my progress doesn’t look like other people’s progress.

So, if, like me, you are a terminal procrastinator, or you find yourself dithering about whether or not you are enough of a future leader to apply for the programme, politely tell those feelings of self-doubt to take a break and submit that application anyway.

You won’t regret it.

Lauren Doughton is a Digital Communications Officer at Shetland Islands Council, and part of the 2022 Future Leaders cohort.

Our Future Leaders programme run every year, and you can now apply for the 2023 Future Leaders cohort!


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