future leaders on tour

Future Leaders, now in its second year, is giving talented public sector comms people the chance to expand their leadership skills. In the days of zero training budgets this is a timely initiative by LGcomms.

by GUEST EDITOR Emma Rodgers

When was the last time you got time away from the office to think about how you spend your time at work, how effective your leadership style is and what to do to build your own personal credibility?

As part of the Local Government Future Leaders [a leadership course organised by Local Government Communications],  I was one of a group of 13 given the unique opportunity  to do just that recently at the Leeds Metropolitan University research residential. 

On a two day course shaped by us and then designed exclusively by the PR legends Anne Gregory and Paul Willis, we got the chance to discover more about what could help us to become communication leaders for the future. 

In my view, it fits in nicely with what others have previously written and discussed about being a communicator in the 21st Century including Darren Caveney , Ben Proctor and  Jarrod Williams.  And sums up that how important it is as communicators to keep learning  -  for your personal development, for your organisation and ultimately for your own future.

Here’s a roundup of what I learnt:

1.    I’m spending too much time on the operational stuff [and I wasn’t alone in this] and need to be more strategic

2.    I need to be more aware of who I’m spending my time with and what I need to be doing when I spend time with certain people [we did a mapping exercise to look at this which was fascinating – most of us who were there had never thought about our time or relationships in this way]. Most of the top communicator leaders do this really well. Every network counts.

3.    There’s a huge amount of theory on strategic leadership -  generally they say that to be effective you should share your time roughly equally on strategy, thinking and just doing 

4.    There are tools and techniques that you can adapt to help you do this more easily – they include evaluating what’s making a difference and what isn’t, looking at what others can do on your behalf [communications is like HR and Finance about 20 years ago but now we think nothing of managing our own budgets or doing disciplinaries] and working more effectively across the team so everyone’s time is being maximised according to skills and what’s deemed most important by our organisations

5.    Given the demands on communications when there are reducing budgets, higher consumer expectations, less trust and with business areas under increasing pressure, we need to be clearer about how we operate; increasingly educating, advising and brokering.  In short we need to be acting more like consultants

6.    Being a consultant means ensuring the right mindset, knowledge, skills and competencies.  This is about making sure you’re providing vision and external focus, you’re proactive and think about the long term, you’re looking and thinking differently, solving problems and offering qualitative advice.  It goes without saying that you have to keep abreast of learning and continue to hone your communications techniques and skills – it’s the combination of this with the above that will make you a truly invaluable communications leader

7.    One of the main themes across the two days was looking at how we can be effective consultants. This included the pitfalls of client/consultant relationships, getting clarity when there is none,  how you position yourself to be the ‘go to’ person and the benefits this brings.  I’ll never look at a consultant in the same way....

8.    There are eight  ‘great competencies’ that we should be aspiring to as communications leaders [Batram, 2005].

They are:

-          Leading and deciding

-          Supporting and co-operating

-          Interacting and presenting

-          Analysing and interpreting

-          Creating and conceptualising

-          Organising and executing

-          Adapting and coping              

-          Enterprising and performing

 Think about how you compare in your every day role and if there are gaps, think about how to plug them. 

9.    The two days were grounded in research from the public and private sector which was both challenging and positive and really made me think.  For me,  it always comes back to the elevator test – what’s the strategic role of communications in your organisation?  And what will you do to make this happen?

10   We were privileged to hear masses of stories and first hand examples from Anne and Paul who between them bring over 40 years of PR experience from a huge range of sectors.  They are known as the gurus of PR and I for one felt very lucky to have the opportunity to work with them in such an accessible way.  You can check out more about them here:  www.leedsmet.ac.uk/fbl/Professor_Anne_Gregory.htm and www.leedsmet.ac.uk/research/paul-willis.htm We saw a sneak preview of the book they’ve got going to press called Strategic Public Relations Leadership – it’s well worth looking up when it comes out

11   At the same time, the two days gave us the luxury to work through our own issues, concerns and questions.  It gave us all ‘head space’ which is something that isn’t that easy to come by with the ever increasing pace and pressure of public sector communications.  It was summed up by for me what I felt was the quote of the two days and it was originally said by someone else: ’ A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world’ [John le Carre].

12   Lastly it was good fun – the Future Leaders’ group is brilliant and we’ve been told we’re quite rare in that we get on so well.  After a really long first day at Leeds Met, we all went for a curry together . You may by now have seen some of the pictures on twitter.... and yes the naan really was that huge.

Emma Rodgers is Senior Campaigns Officer at Staffordshire County Council

If you’re thinking of applying for the LG Comms Future Leaders course next year, it’s to be recommended. Watch the LG Comms website for more details coming soon.

image via Flickr Creative Commons